Massanutten Mountain Trails 100
May 18 - 19th, 2013
This story really began more than a year ago when I entered one of the coolest lottery systems to try my luck at getting into one of the toughest 100s on the East Coast, perhaps one of the most challenging in the nation. Thanks to my unsuccessful bid in 2012 I had priority to get in this year. As luck would have it I didn't need it thanks to the DOW I got in!
This is my story as I recall it. The trail gives and takes many things while you are on it. It is a balancing act to keep those moments clear as your mind and body are pushed beyond the limits you previously knew. But these are my memories, my choices, my thoughts and my adventure. I take responsibility for how I handled myself on that mountain and at the end of the trail, I am proud of all the choices I made. I have never worked harder, pushed longer or given more to achieve something in my life. The best part in already knowing the ending is the acceptance, no the declaration that it is not an end but a continuation of a journey I hope to never complete. I hope to always be pushing towards a mountain top...even if I never make it there.
My Mountain Story
Friday, May 17th
I can't believe that in mere hours I will be leaving my family and starting an adventure that will be the reward for 2 years of work and dedication. My stomach will not settle down. My pacer, Diane has filled this week with daily encouragement. I know I wouldn't be physically as ready without her. Her quiet trail presence and ease on the Massanutten trails have helped to show me what I need to do. We plan to meet at Caroline Furnace, the start/finish area, around 2 this afternoon but I am running late. The music I have spent the week downloading will not go onto my MP3 player and I am panicking. This music is what I will use to get through those early solo miles in the dark before getting to Camp Roosevelt and meeting Diane to finish the last 40 miles of the race. But finally I dig out an old laptop and get the music transferred. Another issue. My watch is frozen. I can't set the time of day. This is the watch I will use to know that I am getting to aid stations ahead of cut offs. Hubby gives me his but I decide to run to the store and just pick up a new one of my exact model. The car is loaded. Last minute kisses given. 2 hours late I am finally leaving.
The briefing is at 4 and Diane has no cell phone so I am getting nervous that I'll miss the brief, get lost, have car trouble...my mind is already trying to psych me out. I crank the music and try to get lost in the drive.
Yeah! I made it and got a great parking spot near the bunks and shower. I try to text my family but there is not service. Crap! There are a few people milling around and they direct me to the start/finish area through the woods, down a hill and across a stream. Diane and the crew are all there. It is a relief to see everyone but I am probably not hiding my nervousness very well. I get checked in and but my club tee shirt. Diane and I walk back over to the camp area and gather my 9 drop bags and lug them back to the drop boxes.
The brief runs late as does the caterers. The RD, Kevin Sayers does his best to share all the needed information in a light hearted way. I'm glued to his every word worrying that something important in what he is saying will make the difference and without it I'll be lost in the forest forever.
We enjoy a yummy dinner of pasta, salad, garlic bread and desserts. Diane and I mingle with loads of trail friends. Rande, Kari, Ed, Gary, Larry W, Larry H, Mark, Carter, Matt, Brenda, Caroline, Alan, Kim....actually there isn't anyway to list them all. Talking with everyone seems to make me even more nervous.
We head back over to the camp area. I head off to my bunk and Diane and her hubby are camping. Lisa, Chris, Kim and several other ladies are all in my bunkhouse. We sit on the porch and get a lesson in foot taping from Kim and talk about the day to come.
I didn't sleep much. Too many restless ladies. Too many thoughts in my mind. Too much nervousness.
This is it. I feel like I could throw up. The entire weight of the mountain seems to be resting on my shoulders. I'm sure I'm going to throw up. I walk to the start with my very heavy pack. I forget all about taking pictures. But I do get this one of the start finish line.
4:00 - 7:03 a.m.
Caroline Furnace to Edinburg Gap 12.1 miles
MMT starts in an open field and then to a brief paved road section then onto gravel roads for a few miles before entering the trails. My goal is to make sure I stayed behind a few friends who are very experienced trail runners on the MMT course. I run by myself, I ran with several other runner but mostly I run this section with a trail friend, Charlie. I don't usually start off wanting or needing to talk but it helps to calm my nerves to listen to someone else. With a goal to arrive at Edinsburg Gap by 7:15 I am happy with this section but disappointed that I run all of it feeling like I could not stop. No nature call, no tightening my loose shoes, no stopping. These choices might effect my run later on. At Edinsburg Gap aid station I top off my pack, get my fuel bag out of my drop bag, drink some water and ginger ale then grab a quarter of a pbj and head out. I am so afraid to stop moving. It's still cool out but the day is brightening, the birds are singing and I feel happy to be out there. I am running in my HAT Run tee, YMX skirt, compression socks and Saucony trail shoes. So far the biggest issue is with my shoes but I am afraid to stop and tighten them. There is a hot spot already developing on my left foot and starting to heat up on my right.
Edinburg Gap to Woodstock Tower 8.2 miles
I realized I had to stop along this section to take care of two things; a nature call and tightening my shoes. My shoes immediately felt like a new pair of shoes and my feet feel revived. The nature call only shows me that I am way behind on fluids and even though it is still early in the morning I am sweating more than I am replacing. I run alone. I fall in with others. Already my mind is not taking in anything except how I must keep moving forward. Stopping to take pictures or enjoy the view is not on the agenda. My hopes of finding signal to send tweets from the trail are forgotten. I pause and snap a photo to send to the family, praying it will go out before I turn off the phone. For the briefest of moments I am lost inside my head thinking about what I need to do when I hit this aid station and whap! I catch my right big toe and can not run out of it. I try to roll but the rocks aimed for my falling body hit before I can adjust. My left knee lands square on the edge of a sharp rock, I hit multiple points on rock on my right knee, both forearms and the side of my head thanks to my failed aerobatics. I take a minute to let my head settle and than thank God I was alone. Even in this moment I have the very human thought of, "At least no one else saw that."
Woodstock to Powells Fort 5.6 miles
I am feeling good and hitting my arrival times at aid station within minutes of my goals even with the time spent in stations. I do pause briefly to attempt to send out a text to my family and a quick shot of the trail in front of me. But I know that I have to keep moving and the slightest pause give tiny issues a louder voice so I move trying to stay focused on positive things.
Powells Fort to Elizabeth Furnace 7.5 miles
I can't wait to get to EF. My fresh shoes are there and my feet are ready to feel revived. Another longer section that allows for a little roller coaster of feelings. I spend miles feeling so proud of how strong I feel, enveloped in all the beauty of this mountain I am amazed how lucky I am, I think about my family and friends and how they all are pulling for me even more than I realized, I am thankful for my friends who eagerly volunteered to stay with the kids and bring them to the finish line when the super secret spy had to attend classes this weekend. These high moments by far are outweighing the eventual low ones but they too come. The low moments allow my mind to focus on the issues; tired feet, chafing on my left arm and the increasing pain in my left knee on every downhill swirl through my mind even as I get to the aid station. I change out of my wet clothes and into a fresh shirt, shorts and shoes. I'm rushing too much trying to get glide reapplied, pack topped and eat something. I realized the difference a crew can make and why runners who do this solo deserve their own division.
Elizabeth Furnace to Shawl Gap 4.7 miles
Honestly all I really remember is moving forward. Near Shawl Gap I send another text letting family know I'm nearing 40 miles and still close to my times and that I had a low point but was rallying. A running friend, Cherry was at Shawl Gap. She has the best smile. It dimmed a little when she saw me. I may have looked bad. At this point I am really behind on fuel and although I can move forward and am still running the flats and downs, I'm sure my body posture and attitude are things I can't spare the energy for. Cherry is so helpful. She does get me to eat a cheese and bean quesadilla. Yuck is what I think but I eat it any way. I keep moving.
Shawl Gap to Veach Gap 3.1 miles
At this point I am fairly often alone although John and Mark occasionally provide me with company. I am looking forward to the climb after Veach Gap and not liking the road section. John catches me on the road. At the aid station I again rush through too fast. Diane is just passed the aid station set up taking photos. It's great to see her. She is enjoying her day of volunteering. She tells me I am just behind our friend Mark and I hurry along.
Veach Gap to Indian Grave Trailhead 9.0 miles
I am enjoying the climb up Veach. Diane and I had practiced this section solo just weeks ago and I loved how much of this course felt at least vaguely familiar. I know that next year I will have hiking poles. I frequently pick up thick branches to help keep me from bending over to much on long climbs. I am loving the early part of this section. It's beautiful. I enjoy remembering my training run with Diane through this section. I want to pause to take my usual photos of flowers but even the orchids I have seen off and on through the course are not enough to get my to pause. I'm still afraid to stop for anything. This is a long section and I go through a high at the beginning and a low as I unknowingly near the aid station. I'm sick of feeling like I don't remember the course. I run some of this section with John who has been considering dropping since he dislocated his pinkie early in the race. I am headed south mentally. I pray that I can turn it around. At long last, I pop out of the trail and there is the aid station. I should have recognized I was having issues when I don't even know where I was.
Indian Grave Trailhead to Habron Gap 3.9 miles
I leave Indian Grave after a brief pause and with no solid recollection that I ate anything. My fuel bags remain mostly untouched, my pack remains heavy and I am concerned about the lack of nature calls after this long in the race. Praying distracts my mind through this road section. I am alone for a long time with no runners in either direction. I actually double back thinking I've missed a turn into the trail. What I don't remember is this entire 3.9 miles is on a gravel road.
My mood is heavy so finally I decide to stop. I just stop in the middle of the road. I take off my pack and look around. I take care of a much overdue nature call which makes me feel better and shows me that I really must drink more. I snap a picture to try and text out to the family that I am at about 50 miles into this adventure. I read a few text that had bounced in from earlier in the day. This is clearly much more mental than I realized. Not needing to watch every step, I walk toward the Habron aid station. I will pull this together. My spirits are uplifted. I check in with how my body is really feeling. My left hamstring which is historically the big issue has not spoken once. I'm amazed that I hadn't realized just how good I am feeling. My hamstrings, quads, calves, back, arms are all feeling solid. No fatigue or soreness in them. My feet are tired and have a few hot spots growing. My knees ache which is unusual especially my left knee which is hurting more sharply on every decline. I feel like I have listed more pros than cons and this has lifted my mood.
During my walking self-pep talk John catches up with me. We chat and run the remainder of the road together. At the aid station I am about an hour behind the time I wanted to arrive. But I know that my "schedule" had not factored in time at aid stations (another of many lessons I've learned make a big deal in super long distances). John tells me to not hang around. I sit in a chair while I go through my drop bag. I am not taking anything but my light. I am still not eating much of anything along the trail even though I know I need to. Again I don't know what if anything I eat but I gather my drop bag, put it in the box for return and I leave the aid station alone. Mark and John remain in their chairs to contemplate whether they push for the next aid station.
Habron Gap to Camp Roosevelt 9.8 miles
I tuck my headlamp into my pack. I get out my music only to realize that my play list didn't sync correctly. With the light fading quickly as I climb I set my mp3 player on shuffle all and enjoy the mild distraction of Christmas songs, veggie tales, Larry the Cable Guy, ancient country songs and ABC practice. During the next 4 hours I wouldn't hear a single one of the songs I actually wanted to hear while climbing this section. But it laughed my way up Habron. I found two near perfectly sized sticks to use an country hiking poles and I was actually enjoying being out in the woods solo as the light left the sky. I pulled on the headlamp only when the last of the light faded. It was amazing! This was what I had waited for. I love being in the woods at night. The climb was made so much more manageable in the darkness.
As I made great time near the top I came upon another runner. It was Ed. Saturday was Ed's birthday and as I near him sitting on a rock I was going to simply tease him that he was taking it easy since it was his birthday but what happened next changed my race day. This was my choice and more a reflection on myself as a person and not a runner. Ed told me that he had been getting very sick and was feeling fragile and he might backtrack to Habron and drop. He stood up but didn't seem very solid on his feet. But Ed thought maybe he could get his ninth life. I told him we would finish the climb together. We plodded along. I tried to talk as much as I could just to see how Ed was doing. At the top Ed sat to try and eat something. I killed time with a nature call and tried to eat a Gu since the long plodding was sapping my physical and mental energy. Now everything that had been a tiny issue in my body seemed to have multiplied. Ed was violently ill multiple times as we sat there. I couldn't leave him now. Now I was worried. How far to the aid station? How far had we come? Could I get him to sit while I tried to run into the aid station for help? What if he fell while wobbling around on the rocks if I left him. Throughout the race I often neared panic thinking I was the last runner. As if that would matter if I finish as the last runner?! But now it seemed to matter. Now my mind was spinning out of control, tumbling negative thoughts. Who was I to do this if even Ed, a trail veteran and MMT veteran was having so much trouble. All logical thought seemed to evaporate. I told Ed I wasn't leaving him. He told me he'd be fine. But I said no that we would walk this in together. I tried to lead but Ed fell too far behind. Ed lead. We plodded. My mind spun. Every slight decline or twist on a rock would snap through my knee in a now unimaginable level of pain. I stopped drinking completely. My stomach was now to attached to the pain in my knee. And now the bottom of me feet hurt beyond words. Great now I realize I have a giant blister on my left foot! All the things that I had pushed out of my mind were now able to begin to over whelm me.
I scream inside my head that I needed to stop it but my mind was a run away train now.
Mark and John had not dropped at Habron and had caught up to us. We all plodded together until Mark suggested that he and I head on while John and Ed would remain together. Off Mark and I headed. Mark tried to get me to move but I was so busy inside my head trying to stop the negative chatter, trying to tell myself that the pain was temporary and not the unbearable crucifixion that I had worked it up to be. I cried. I swore. I cried again. Gary Knipling passed us with a quick hello. But even seeing Gary who was dealing with his own challenges couldn't pull me out of my spiral. Mark tired. I know he did. He got me to that aid station with cutoff time to spare but I sat down. I just needed to get myself under control. Everyone was dropping. I couldn't get that out of my mind. And somehow it started to seem ok. Ok to entertain the idea of letting myself down.
I went through the motions of changing my top. Diane filled my pack, gave me soup, coffee, everything from my drop bag. We talked about my issues. My aid station workers all told me to get off my butt. I was still panicking. I opened two of my letters from my drop bag, one was from my sister and the other from my hubby. I cried. Those words were what I needed. I told Diane that we were going, I stood up and then I passed out.
I didn't really understand what was happening. It just suddenly all went black and I was suddenly sweating and shivering. I knew people were touching me and talking to me but I think all I kept saying was, what's happening? Time got really messed up at that point. I thought I was sitting with my head down and then I was laying down on a cot. People were telling me things but I'm not sure what they were saying. One thing I know for sure is that I was crying and I realized that this, 64 miles was going to be the end of my attempt to go 100.
Today as I try to put these thoughts together I know it isn't the end but merely a continuation. This thing that I have wanted for 2 years, a thing that frightened me for wanting it. This 100 mile, no it's not about 100 miles it is about Massanutten. I don't simply want to go 100 miles. I want to complete Massanutten. I will complete Massanutten. I know how to train my body and now I understand just how hard I need to train my mind.
"A visitor is expected to return."
Post script: My 2013 MMT journey was a huge success. Maybe not a success by the definition some would apply to it however I strengthened friendships, gained knowledge, enjoyed the mountain, cheered for hours and humbled myself more in two days than many do in years. I need to thank hundreds of people who gave of their time, talent and energy to allow me and 195 others the privilege to do all those things. Thank you to the VHTRC, Kevin Sayers, Diane B., my family and friends, Mark, John, Charlie, Rande & Kari, Bob, Kim, Cherry, Carter, Matt, Bobby, countless aid station volunteers and the VDCR.