Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Massanutten 2011- Full Circle

The Massanutten 100 is billed as one of the toughest in the country. All 100s are difficult, but what makes this race so hard is the terrain. It's not just the climbs and descents, but the technical, rocky trail. There are rocks that you clamber over, rocks that roll around under your feet, rocks that you rock-hop. In other words, a lot of rocks. The aid stations are far apart and you have to carry what you need in your pack. Determining what you need can be difficult, especially when the weather is calling for rain most of the weekend. The aid stations are well-stocked, and you can have a drop bag at most of them, but it always takes me a long time to try to predict what I will want at what point.

The race started at 4:00 a.m. this year, which meant a short night and a 2:45 a.m. wake-up call. The night before I was still struggling with a decision about what shoes to wear. I finally decided to stick to my Brooks Ravenna road shoes, which I have been wearing for the past year for all my trail runs. A couple of years ago, I would have questioned someone's judgment about wearing road shoes to the Massanutten and all it's rocks, but they've worked great so far and I didn't want to change things up at this point. (Although I did question, to myself, one woman's decision to wear Vibrams, which she had only worn a few times prior to the run.)

I tried to write this race report like a course description, but it got pretty monotonous. Every section involved a description of steep climbs and descents and a lot of rocky, technical terrain. So then I tried a description of my run, but that was monotonous, too. I felt good, I felt bad, I felt good again and then really, really bad. There, that sums it up. So I am left with random thoughts and highlights. Here we go....

1. The change-up in the course. The course is in a different order than in my previous run, so it was interesting to find that what used to be hard wasn't, and what wasn't hard was. Short Mountain on fresh legs at dawn was a lot easier than 2/3s of the way into the race in the dark. Kerns Mountain became the new Short Mountain, with the longest four mile section I have ever run.

2. Blisters. 28 in 2004. Maybe 2 in 2011. Correct shoes and socks (Smartwool) make a difference. My feet did hurt extremely bad towards the end of the race and I expected to find the bottoms covered with blisters, but they were just yucky and super-tender from being wet for the last 14 hours.

3. People. I had the chance to catch up with people I hadn't seen in a while, like Jay Finkle, 67 year old Gary Knippling who was running his 14th MMT, Beth Minnick, pacing and crewing Rick Gray (who was feeling too bad to chat). I spent quite a bit of time with Suzie Spangler as we were running about the same pace and kept catching up with each other. She helped time pass by faster, particularly the road sections, where you could actually have conversations. Later in the night, as I was feeling really bad, tagging along with her and her pacer, Mary, kept me going. I also met Jeff Pence, who we discovered used to work out and run with Tony, when Tony lived in Woodstock. I also met a number of new people and came to appreciate the familiar faces that I kept encountering throughout the run. Finishing in the middle of the pack, rather than lonely at the back, made me appreciate how many truly talented and determined runners there are out there.

4. The bad times. Issues with nausea and light-headedness in the morning, alleviated by running behind Suzie and focusing on her feet rather than on the rocky trail. A particularly bad time with those same issues in the night on Kern's Mountain, to the point that I thought I would have to drop at the Visitor's Center. A deluge along with lightning on the same section. Joining the walking dead huddled in the tent at the Visitor's Center. After Bird Knob, hitting a low point once again and actually running along crying about it. My feet (and everyone else's I passed) hurting so badly in the 15 miles. Mud from the rain (the shoes used to be white). The bugs!

5. The good times. The sunrise, both times. Seeing Tony at aid stations. No asthma issues. Good feeling feet for 80 miles or so. Eating a cup of soup at the aid station at Visitor Center and feeling like a new woman. The view on the way to Elizabeth Furnace and the view from Bird Knob at night. Finding a 6'2" leprechaun on the trail clicking his heels together and saying "Top of the morning to you." (Not a hallucination. Tony meeting me on the trail Sunday morning). Seeing Rick Gray at a very low point and then finding out he was able to finish the MMT on his third attempt. The flowers and the birds and sometimes feeling like I was the only one out there (maybe that should also be under bad times). A hard-boiled egg at the Picnic area. Finishing with a respectable time and being able to wear the shirt. Being satisfied with my run and not having unfinished business.

6. The aid stations were manned with the best volunteers. They filled my water bladder, brought me my drop bag and tried to figure out what I needed when I didn't know. Here's a chair, want some soup, what do you need, do you want to try....? At the Indian Grave aid station, the volunteer giving me sound advice (your hands are fine and lay off the electrolytes at this point, do you want to eat this, what about this, want some ginger ale?). At the Picnic area, while I was exhausted and teary, here's your drop bag, let me put this in it for you, I've touched worse things than your dirty socks, here's a coke, take this bag with some extra food in it, do you want to know what's ahead of you? A little kindness goes a long way when you're nearing your limits.

MMT was extraordinarily well organized, well staffed, and well run. I went into the run with a lot of doubts about whether I could finish it or not, but everything held together long enough to do it. I won't say I had fun for the last 30 miles, but I am satisfied with the outcome, especially as bad as I felt. (104 out of 195 starters, 33:49.)


Jason said...

Congratulations Denise. I cannot imagine hitting that course with a pair of Vibrams. I've never seen it, but the pictures alone show the massive amount of rocks.

Its great to hear that you had such a solid run and finishing time.

Enjoy some recovery.

Rick Gray said...

You are one heck of a runner. I know you did not feel wonderful when you passed me, but you still had that look in your eye. MMT is just an awful course, but you weathered it well. Congratulations on a wonderful but tough run. I am so glad it is over and that I finally was able to knock those two dnf's off of my shoulder. Tammy says no right now to another shot at this thing, but I am saying lets give it another try. Great job. I am proud of you.

eminnick said...

was great seeing you out there!I was also very impressed with the aid stations and volunteers, wow! congrates on another great accomplishment!