This was my third running of the MMT 100, and the goal this year was to improve.
I wanted to break 30 hours.
A coach was hired, training commenced in the winter. Nutrition and hydration plans were drawn up, pacers and crew engaged.
I watched the weather closely, early in the week it was in the mid 80s but nothing I could do about that.
Race morning was cool and a good forecast was in the works.
The first section of the run was rather uneventful. In no time we were up the road section and onto Short Mountain. First miles through Edinburg Gap were uneventful, running with others, getting in small conga lines.
After exchanging bottles with Wayne Mongold at Edinburg, the climb up Waonaze Peak tends to start stringing out runners. On the downhill to Woodstock I stopped for a second bathroom break. Then, shortly after the Woodstock AS, my third stop bathroom stop.
I had nine bathroom stops in the first 50K. Anytime I started to break into a jog, the peristaltic motion was having me jump off into the bushes again. Climbing was okay. But this was not good.
I get to Elizabeth Furnace one hour off my predicted splits. My crew is looking a bit anxious, and I tell them what happened. "You know that nutrition plan? Well, it's time to modify that." I cut my maltodextrin down in t he bottle, get some solid cookies from my crew, and go off to the AS to check in and see if there is any Imodium available. There is. Thank heaven.
I start nibbling on my cookie and just start walking out of EF. It's a climb anyways, and I have a problem to solve. Now is not the time to worry about ruining my chances for a sub 30 goal. My goal for the time is to get my stomach under control, and get some calories back into me. I have yet another bathroom stop. That is the last one, I tell myself. Let the medicine have a chance to work. Walk up to the top. It's not like you would be running this section anyways. I have a very small brief whiny moment and then I put it behind me. Don't even think about times right now. The focus of the moment is to eat these cookies and wash them down with little sips of water.
The overcast weather is helpful It is humid, but really not very hot. I get to the Shawl Gap Trail intersection and catch some other runners-Benny, Jim, and Bryan. This really helped my spirits rise. We are running downhill, and my medicine is working, no bathroom stops. I'm cautiously optimistic.
My crew is relieved to see me at Shawl Gap. We cut the maltodextrin again, and I stick with my plan here to run this 5K road section without my waist pack, and just one hand held. I also pick up my music through here. I get more solid food from the crew.
I ran most of the road. I am starting to feel VERY good through here. The music helps.
I get into Veach Gap AS, and pick up my double waist pack with bottles ready. I modify the malto in these bottles also. I grab a little bit of food. I know I am behind on calories, but I am also a bit wary on eating too much. I want to keep the momentum going. I leave Veach Gap Aid Station with three water bottles, as I have the "9 big Massanutten miles" to go.
It is a good climb up out of Veach. But it's not that bad. Because it's overcast. A person normally just bakes on the climb. I know the drill on this climb. Don't look up, don't look too far in advance, because you don't want to know how far you still have to go!
Aaron Schwartzbard is a welcome sight on the climb up to the ridge line, hanging out and taking photos. I get up the ridge, back to the beloved MMT orange trail. The climb wasn't so bad. This was the best weather I've ever climbed out of Veach, still overcast.
I pass Michelle, another female from Ohio, give her some encouragement, then run into another friend, Bill Losey for a quick chat. Then it's back to relentless forward motion.
I had forgotten about the long downhill run down Indian Grave Ridge Trail.. It's runnable. Really runnable. And I feel fantastic. I run the whole way down, passing lots of folks, (10 actually) who remark on my enthusiasm. I told them I had rallied, and indeed I had.
At the Indian Grave Aid Station I had a fresh grilled cheese sandwich and I eat the whole sandwich down. I start on a second one, then think better of it..no need to gorge myself and cause problems. This is the most food I've ate since breakfast.
5 miles to Habron Gap...no the AS workers correct me, 4 miles to Habron. Cool! It's great just lose a mile like that!
I turn on the music, and resolve to run/walk the road. I target a tree, a pole, a dark spot on the road, run to the that, then walk. Then quickly pick the next target to run to. I finally get down the road and see the houses which cue me that the AS is coming up. I glance at my watch. It's 630 pm.
I had ascertained pre race, looking at finisher splits from previous years, that you pretty much have to get to Habron Gap AS before 6 pm if you want to finish sub 30. I'm still okay with that. I really am not thinking about the full final time goal. I'm still just pleased as heck that I've stopped pooping in the woods and am having a phenomenal race now. Positivity begets positivity with me!
The crew gets my light out, more food, swap the double waist pack for the single waist pack, and it's time to climb again. But the next AS is going to be Camp Roo, w here I will pick up my pacer.
I start the climb with Des Cowie, another female runner from Ohio, but I want to get up this climb. I want to get as much trail in daylight as possible. Now the problem to solve is to cover as much trail before darkness falls.
I've forgotten the Habron Gap climb, and I feel bad for Nathan, who is going to think I lied to him about the Habron climb...I said it was easier than the climb out of Veach.
I'm back on orange MMT again. I don't remember the mileage from the Habron Trail head to the Stephens Trail turn off. It's one of the few sections I just didn't memorize the distance.
Carnage is starting also, at this time, at this mileage, up on the ridge. I pass tears, and then puking. There is a bit of a breeze going, and for me it was refreshing. I wonder if it will actually get cold tonight. I keep going.
Where's the Kennedy Tower? And Stephens Trail?? Finally I see a red tape, and I start down hill. The big wooden sign is missing (or I somehow missed it) AM I finally on Stephens?
I peer at a blaze...it appears yellow, for Stephens.. But I also snort and laugh to myself as I am the last person to trust the color differences between yellow and orange. (I got side tracked by a yellow blaze on the "stay on orange" Reverse Ring in the winter.)
Stephens Trail seems to go on forever. The big storm earlier in the week has made quite some rough footing. It grows dark, and I am forced to turn on the headlamp. I hit the parking lot, and know the AS is just down the road. I have passed 13 runners on this section.
It's a bit chaotic for me as I enter the AS, too many people trying to help me, me looking for my pacers, needing to tape up my heel and ask for some solid food before we head out. I haven't seen Mongold since our pacing adventure in 2011 and he sticks a pecan pie in my mouth, then changes his mind and tells me I can eat it on the fly and to get out with Paul.
Paul Davis is pacing me up Duncan Hollow and Gap Creek Trail to Gap Creek AS. Paul warns me that he will only be pacing me this section, and that Mongold will pace me to the finish. I don't know Paul all that well, so we have a good time chatting on the trail.
I do not remember the Gap Creek Trail climb at all!! I must have blocked the whole trail out of my head last year. It is a heck of a climb through here. I see Jacob Boopalan, from Kenya, on this section through here. But we finally start to descend, and it seems like no time that we are entering the Gap Creek Aid Station. Paul remarks that we had a good split through here. I've passed 11 runners-ten of which were sitting in the Camp Roosevelt Aid Station. This is what a crew can do for you.
Bradley Mongold picks me up here. Mongold paced me to my 31.50 finish in 2011. I was very psyched that he was able to free up the time. I also knew exactly what I was in for. There is no dawdling, no stopping, no whining, no stopping if Mongold is going to do his job.
Having a new pacer also gives the runner new stimulation, and the chatting and talking helps the climb up Jawbone go easier, then we are on Kerns. I tell Mongold Short Mountain seemed more runnable this year and he is amused. Kerns also seems more runnable. More talking, more relentless forward motion, more eating and drinking. Mongold knows I am behind on calories and is monitoring my intake.
It's a big lonely section with no other runners. Mongold mentions we are kind of in a hole between runners. But as we get toward the end of Kerns, we start to catch runners-and pass them.
My eye is out for Q's view. Q's view signals the end of the mountain, and then short very runnable section down to the Crisman Hollow Road. We see a bunch of lights up ahead and actually think there are campers there. Nope, it just seems like about 6 or 7 runners, just hanging out. One of them yells "hey it's Kimba I'm going with her" and someone else joins my fan club. I can't think of his name right now, but as I mention I will be happy to get to the AS soon, so I can do something about my heartburn, he mentions he has Tums! So I got to resolve that problem-some major heartburn that I had been experiencing.
MMT marks the course with bright yellow ribbons. We are running on the very end of the Kerns section, where the yellow ribbon flaps in the wind, covering my eyes, as I simultaneously bump a rock with my right foot and go down hard.
Mongold gives me about 25 seconds to roll over and get up. But a runner will take any sort of break. I shake it off. The knee is a bit stiff, but it seems fine. I mutter "that will leave a mark". Now that Kerns has its blood tribute from me, it's time to go.
We pass more runners on the mile long stretch of road down to the Visitor Center AS. I can feel both of my knees aching on this road section. We run all of it. It's road. It's easy time. Mongold gives me my instructions, check in with the AS, get my water bottle, and start the Bird Knob climb. I've now passed 18 runners on this section.
I make the mistake of saying the BK climb is dry, then we hit the mud. Boy, the Bird Knob climb seems tough this year. And longer. I'm moving just step by step. Mongold gives the "almost there" and I also think we are almost there..but there are still more rocks and a bit more climb. It is just heinous.
We hit some flat ground. I'm not feeling good. We have run all the way down the road and then immediately climbed. I'm nauseous and very dizzy. A near by pine tree lets me lean on it, and I proceed to vomit up my stomach contents. About six heaves later, I rinse my mouth out. "Okay."
Mongold says lets go and walk. I feel 100% better. WAY better than before.
But now the new problem to solve is to again get calories back into my stomach. But the Bird Knob AS is just about a 1/2 mile away, good deal.
There are two other runners right behind us, as we walk. The one runner asks the other runner to turn off his headlamp, as it is "annoying him". So I first think this is his pacer, but no, it's two runners. Then one of the two complains about the whippoorwill, that had the audacity to chirp outside his tent.
A few minutes later, I remark to Mongold "can you flick your ponytail to the other side, it's quite annoying me" and we begin to laugh. And break into a jog, to get away from these two runners.
At the aid station, I grab a baggie and anything that looks like my stomach could handle-some pretzels, Goldfish crackers, a few fritos. It's rather pitiful in terms of calories, but anything is better than nothing. We run the road. It's downhill. But we both know the course. We're just running downhill so we can ascend the Brown Trail.
The Brown Trail is a bitch of a trail and Mongold remarks that this climb is under rated. We start up. Step by step. I so want to rest. Just for a minute. Just for a step. But I know better. I know not to even stop, because my pacer is right on my heels. If I can move, I should move.
We finally make the top, and then the long down (and little ups) over to the Picnic Area AS. This is a long section. We try and run as much as possible. We get to some of the water crossings and just splash through them. It's no longer that important to keep my feet dry, it's more important to quickly get through them.
There is still a time element involved with my run. I had some goals.
To get off Bird Knob before daylight-we were way there before daylight
To get to Picnic Area before daylight-we got there right about daylight.
I'm thinking a little of my time goal, but really, the job at hand is
to run what I can, get these crackers in my stomach. Small little
What about my goal? Where was I on that? Could I actually eke out my sub 30?
I didn't know what time it was, other than knowing the sunrise was about 540 am, I didn't know what time it was. My Garmin had died. Mongold was in charge of the time anyways.
Mongold had told me the last two sections were the most important, we might have to red line again, it could be the difference between a 29.50 and a 30.50 finish.
I was doing the best that I could. I knew my calories were really really low. I was trying to get food in, sweet tea in, anything in small quantities. And I still had energy. I was still moving forward. I believe my posture was better than some of the runners we were passing. From Visitor Center to Picnic Area, we pass 13 runners.
We get to the Picnic Area, and give Quatro a little wave as we don't even stop. My crew is waiting over in the parking lot at Rt 211. I throw down my dead Garmin, my old water bottle, and go on to the climb.
It's the area, my low spot over the last two years. But I ran this section in January in training, and it's really not that long. Mongold has stopped for a bio break, and I keep going up the mountain. Running, and walking, running, walking.I know exactly what is coming.
It's the switchbacks. But they are runnable. So we run them. I'm tired. I'm way tired. But I know we have the little climb to the miniature boulder field, and then the trail right up the creek bed.
I'm glad to get to the boulder field-finally. Then we start up the creek. I resolutely splash right up the creek, just looking for the best footing. Wet feet does not matter. Okay. We make it to the top. Some more runnable.
I'm sure the term "runnable" here, in mile 94 or so of a 103.7 mile race is ambiguous. But it's not a walk, so it's a run!
I'm surprised at the burned out forest. This controlled burn has happened since the January training run.
We both ponder how far it is to the Crisman Hollow Road, then down the road to the AS. Mongold tells me its "a couple of hundred yards" and I start laughing and tell him I've been on this course before, it's a bit farther than that! But we are still able to laugh.
Looking at the splits through this section, I have the 21st fastest time through here. Wow, what a difference good training and mental attitude has. It was very helpful for me to run this section in January, I remembered the area so much better and knew in my head it was not that long, therefore I didn't build it up in my head to some unending stretch of trail.
We are at Gap Creek II for the last time. I grab a water bottle, Mongold stops for last minute instruction to the crew-I am wondering what he is saying to them. I go up the road and then start climbing Jawbone. Still no Mongold. I am wondering, if this is a test. Is he going to grab a ride with the girls, and join me over on Moreland Gap Road? Is he going to let me finish this by myself?
Halfway up Jawbone, Mongold finally catches up. I am relieved. Our journey together is almost over. I'm so happy he's made the time to do this with me again.
We start down the last section of MMT rocks. I still have the last section, the dreaded road, in front of me. I don't know where I am on time. Mongold is not overly pushing me, so I am pretty sure we are past the 30 hour mark. But I don't ask. I know he will lie to me. Because if I know we are at 30+ hours already, then I will slow down..and he's not going to let me do that.
Finally THE ROAD!
In 2011, I ran part of the road, and walked some of it. In 2012, on my training plan, on this section, in capital letters, it read "YOU WILL RUN THIS ROAD". So I was determined to run.
There are six bridges on Moreland Gap Road before the turn to the Lutheran Camp.
I kept my eyes on the road, just like my eyes on the rocks for the last two days. I glanced up only occasionally. On two little hills, rises, I did slow into a power hike, but then settled back into a trot. Mongold said "keep a ryhthmn" and between repeating that and "you will run this road" in my head over and over, we finally started crossing bridges.
I get to six bridges and keep my eyes on the road. I finally glance up and see the seventh bridge in the curve of the road. Hey, I think we are at the turn into the camp!
We ascend the last little slice of MMT, the last hill, and try to catch the runners in front of me. But they must have wised up and speed up too.
We cross the creek and start around the little bit of woods before we break into the open for the finish line. I finally ask Mongold what time it is. He says it's 30 hours and 30 some minutes.
I'm not surprised. I thought we had probably passed the 30 hour mark. I was hoping to PR my old split of 31.50. I know we were crazily making up time left and right. Despite all my problems, I was still having a heck of a good run. After all my problems in the first 50K of the race, I was so pleased to make such a comeback and run so strong for the rest.
That is actually my takeaway from this. Despite what Karl sez, a 100 miles is a real long ways. And you have plenty of time in those 100 miles to have problems, solve problems, get over them. Keep your composure.
Don't let the problem get in the away of destroying your race. Focus on what you can do, to solve that problem. Don't think about your time goal slipping away, or all the people passing you, or your crew worrying about you. Get your issue under control. Or manage that issue to the AS and get help. And then assess. There is really a lot of time in a 36 hour MMT finish.
I also did some "racing self owes it to training self" talk to do the best that I could. I didn't spend all winter running in the ice, snow, darkness to succumb to issues that I could possibly resolve.
We burst out of the trees, I could hear Bur announce my name and my PR, as I came across the finish line in a time of 30 hours 37 minutes.
This time was also good enough to be "First Old Broad" or more PC, First Female Masters. I was actually incredibly stoked to get a Furbutt award~!!!
I finished 75 of 151 runners. At Elizabeth Furnace, I was in 161th place. I passed alot of runners-some of those runners also obviously dropped from the race too. But I bring up the stat just as a reminder that it is very possible to have problems, recover and rally during a long race.
Most of that moving up in the ranks can be credited to my crew and pacers-Wayne Mongold, Alison Holko, Suzanne Weightman, Paul Davis, and Bradley Mongold. They kept my stops to a minimum and kept me moving around the course. Thank you very much. I also trained very hard for this race, thank you to my coach Karl Meltzer for his training and advice.
Also big thank you to Virginia Happy Trails Club and Race Director Kevin Sayers-another topnotch event.
It is always good to run around in the woods of Virginia. I can't wait to come back!