Thursday, May 24, 2007

MMT pacer report

This past weekend was the second year I crewed and ran with Dave P. at the Massanutten Trail 100 Mile, hosted by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club.

In no particular order, here's a little bit of my long weekend in the Shenandoah Valley:

- Drove down to Virginia late Thursday night with Dave, who was running MMT #2. Last year he finished in 29:03. My pacer report from last year displays an elevation chart of the MMT, along with observations of my inital MMT journey.

- An all day Friday rain dampered my adventurous spirit. I was ready to run and rack up a ton of miles over the long vacation weekend. While Dave was packing gear and drop bags, I spent the rainy day in quaint historic district of Front Royal, VA. I purchased a trail guide from the town's visitor center, a haircut, and later read up on the Shenandoah NP and the AT. The rain probably helped me, I needed some rest from a long work week.

- While I have yet to run 100, I feel somewhat guilty when I run as pacer. While I know its entirely within the rules to be a pacer, and that a pacer can be of great value to a competitive ultrarunner, I feel like I'm poaching on all the good fun. I get to run into the night, provide camaraderie, and eventually witness an amazing feat when my fellow runner crosses the finish line. This was my fifth pacer experience going 35+ miles: Second MMT to go along with three Mohicans. Pacers at MMT can start from any aid station after 6pm (13 hours into race.)

- Friday afternoon, the rain continued as we arrived for the race meeting and dinner. While I intended to get my run during the meeting, I could not pry away from the clubhouse. Meeting one runner after another, I could not help but stop to well-wish, and especially to the many from NE Ohio. This Massanutten Trail, to me, is one difficult rocky course and its 36 hour cut-off indicates as such. I have not seen rocky terrain like this anywhere else. (Many 100M races, including Mohican and Western States, have a 30 hour cut-off.)

- I considered the poor Friday weather an omen. I noticed that it placed the right amount of apprehension and concern on the minds of the race entrants. As it turned out, race day weather could not have been better. Sunny mid-70s with a good breeze that cleared out any lingering humidity. A nice day to run in the mountains.

- My Saturday started with a 4am wake-up to drop Dave off for the 5am start. I did not stay for the start, but while driving back to the hotel I saw a black bear yearling crossing the road. That would freak me had I seen that while on the trail.

- After a nap, I headed back to the ranch to meet with another runner who joined me for my day trip along Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park. Rita, another accomplished Ohio ultrarunner, was pacing for Dan F. We hiked two peaks along the Appalachian Trail. At an overlook near Compton Peak, we lunched while looking out to the west and the Massanutten range. I appreciated having had a distant view at the range we were to traverse in the night. Rita really had no clue what was coming. We don't have trail like this in Ohio. Rita and I hiked about 4 miles--just enough to warm up the muscles for the snail's pace of the treacherous MMT course.

Massanutten Range, from the east.

Dave P. doing the rock dance early in the day. [Photo by Aaron Schwartzbard.]

- We arrived at 211E aid station at 2:45pm (9:45 into race.) 211E is the mile 48 and 58 aid station. On the first pass, runners head up to Bird Knob, the southernmost point on the course, before returning to 211E. All of the runners heading south were super fast. Then, off Bird Knob comes Karl Meltzer who was through 58 miles in just about 10 hours! We timed it perfect, as Dave came through at 3:15p (10:15) on a smoking pace. Jim H, another Ohioan, was about 25 minutes behind.

- I was to start running with Dave at Gap Creek aid station (M64.) Rita and I made one more trip to resupply food and water before she dropped me off at Gap Creek at 4:50p. A fun part for me, was to watch all the lead runners come through here. Only Meltzer had passed through mile 64. Next came Keith Kniping in second, followed by Todd Walker third. Prior to Gap Creek, there was a significantly muddy wet trail. Most all runners changed shoes or socks here and it was interesting to me how each operated. Regardless whether they had a crew or not, each seemed very prepared on in good shape. I watched them come, one after the other, until finally Dave arrives in 16th place. After his shoe change, we were off at 7:50pm.

- The aid station volunteers at Gap Creek (miles 38 and 64) were fabulous. Thanks for letting me hang out with you for a few hours. As with any race, the volunteers are what make it. Regarding 100 milers, I can only speak about my experiences with MMT and Mohican, but there's something about the ultra community that makes these events feel like a family affair. As a general observation, I have not met anyone who does not want to assist another ultrarunner succeed. The volunteers of the VHTRC have a special way of doing things.

Lloyd grabbing a bite while waiting at Gap Creek aid station. [Photo by Aaron Schwartzbard.]

- Next section was only 2.8 miles to Moreland Gap and daylight was running out. The thing with the Massanuten trail is that after each aid station comes a climb to the ridge before desending back down for the next aid station. While I could tell Dave's early pace was taking its toll, we both knew to keep pressing on during the daylight. This course becomes incredibly slow during darkness.

- We get in and out of Moreland quickly and embark on the first of two 8.2 mile sections, known as Short Mountain. Minutes after leaving Moreland Gap (M67) darkness was upon us. How long would you think it takes to run 8 miles? This mountain was not short, yet we remembered from last year that the decent to Edinburg Gap aid station (M75) was a cruel down, back up, then down, before finally arriving at Edinburg. We arrive in decent shape, although it took 2hr 55min (a 21 min pace.)

- With a drop bag here, we do a lamp battery change and Dave takes time to eat soup. After Dave gets his stuff I hurry to take care of myself. I survived the night on water, CLIP2, gels, trail mix, and any caffeine I would find at the aid stations. Since the weather was ideal, and the pace not swift, I did not consume an extraordinary amount of calories during this run. We depart Edinburg about 15 minute before Midnight.

Lloyd changing Dave's lamp batteries at Edinburg Gap aid station (M75) [Photo by Aaron Schwartzbard.]

- A familiar sound throughout the night was the call of the whippoorwill. Click here to listen. Either we heard hundreds of whippoorwills, or that guy followed us around that mountain all night.

- The next 8.2 mile section took us almost 3 hours and we arrive at Woodstock Tower (M84) around 2:30am. The trail is more of the same: Poor footing on huge toe-stubbing rocks that sometimes fall out from underneath. The trail so difficult that we practically hike the entire distance while averaging about 21 minute miles. We had not seen a runner since before Edinburgh and we could tell that no one was recently to Woodstock by the old crunchy grilled cheese sandwich. The food spread was tremendous at this aid station and we could also tell that the volunteer were really happy to see us. We would not see another runner for the remainder of the race, yet we always wondered if another runner was chasing us down. Dave finished 30 minutes behind and 40 minutes in front of his nearest competitors.

- Next section was the 5.2 miles to Powell's Fort (M89). Last year, somewhere in this section the was the sunrise. I remembered the positive effect the sun has and when Dave was getting discouraged I would remind him to stay patient, that the sun would rise soon and that's when the real running begins. Yada yada, do what's necessary to get the runner to keep to task and moving forward. I have a huge respect for those that tackle this ultra event as solo. I would likely fall asleep or run off course if running on my own in the dark.

- Powell's Fort was a treat last year. The sun was up and a full breakfast served here. Not the case this year. We arrive at 4:30am, still dark, and no hotcakes to be found. Dave arrived too early for breakfast, but the aid station workers kindly invited him back after the race. After a good dose of caffiene we were quickly off.

- A goal of Dave's was to better the second best Ohio time at this race, held by our local ultrarunning idol TJ Hawk: 27hrs 7 min was his best time here. When I met Dave on this day, he was on 26 hour pace and still with a legitamite shot at breaking 27 hours. I continued to do the math throughout the night and it was as we left Powell's that I sensed that it was going to take a continued effort to meet his goal.

- As it was, 3mph (20 minute miles) was an excellent pace during the night.

- The first section coming out of Powell's is a flat service road. A most welcome running surface, if your runner still feels like running at mile 90 of his day. Dave was kicking butt. We probably walked too much of this road section, and had I read the map a little better I would have known that this road was closer to two miles. Neither of us remembered how long this this flat section really was. All we remembered was the next steep climb. I was just amazed at Dave at how he was still running and moving forward well. Just as we crested the ridge prior to the endless 4.6 mile decent into Elizabeth Furnace, the sun finally rises. We were at the top with an endless downhill and Dave took advantage. Still slightly rocky trail, but almost all down. Lights turned off and Dave still had hope for that sub-27 hour finish.

- We arrive at Elizabeth Furnace (M96), at about 6:40am (25:40 into race.) The finish line awaits 5 miles away, only one more climb over Shawl Gap and decent and back to the ranch.

- Last year, Dave had a really good experience with the steep, but direct climb from Furnace to the very last ridge at Shawl Gap. He practically left me behind last year. But last year's course was different--it was only about 3.5 miles to the finish. This year, apparently, the course returned to its normal punishing finishing route. Instead of a direct climb to the top, the route to Shawl was a 5 mile leg with a soul-crushing climb via long switchbacks. We left Elizabeth Furnace needing to finish in about 85 minutes to break 27 hours. Once Dave saw the long, difficult climb on the new (to us) route, he felt deflated. We somewhat gave up, but who am I to say in the 98th mile of this journey. We pressed on to the top of Shawl Gap, knowing that the final descent was there and that the finish line was near.

With a view of the Shawl Gap in the background, Dave Peterman finishes MMT #2 in 27 hours 12 minutes in 17th place overall. [Photo by Aaron Schwartzbard.]

Although we did not see him all through the night, fellow Ohioan Jim Harris finishes his MMT #2 in 27 hours 49 minutes and in 18th place overall. [Photo by Aaron Schwartzbard.]

Dave and Lloyd, minutes after finishing. [Photo by Aaron Schwartzbard.]

- All-in-all, I traveled 38 miles (12hrs 25 min) with Dave. Whew. After watching fellow Ohioan Jim Harris cross the line, we headed to the hotel for shower and nap.

- We returned to the ranch with plenty of time still remaining on the clock and I could not imagine myself still out there on the course. Yet at 34+ hours into the race, there were still plenty of competitors still pressing on to the finish. One of them being Dan F., and his pacer Rita, who had dropped me off at Gap Creek some 22 hours previously.

- After another bite to eat, I ventured back out on the course. As I returned to Shawl Gap, I got to cheer on the final finishers on their approach to the finish. Some knew the course, but many were somewhat stunned when I'd tell them there was still about a mile left to go. Their day must have seemed endless, yet the look on their faces was priceless when I offered that the finish line was near.

- It was during this little extra hike that I think I learned what this 100M ultra experience is all about. Watching the final runners come by, one-by-one or grouped together, I was able to witness the self-trancendence that occurs when a runner finally realizes their journey nears the end. Seeing the elated face, and worn-out body, of each runner I could imagine what each one endured during this ridiculously long and difficult Massanutten course. I reflected upon my own first 100M journey, to come soon at the Mohican 100 in less than four weeks.

All-in-all, a wonderful weekend around the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley. Similar to my Bull Run Run experience, the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club provided a top notch event. One I enjoyed thoroughly. Congrats to all the finishers of the MMT!

Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 homepage

Photo collection of Aaron Schwartzbard


Blogger Eric said...

Sounds like you had a great time at the race, especially pacing.

I'm looking forward to hearing your experience at Mohican.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I bet not a runner there would feel like you're poaching.

And you'll join the crazy sufferfest soon... 100 mi... wow.

8:49 AM  
Blogger E-Speed said...

what a great report! Glad Dave did so well! And that seeing all of this got you pumped for your first 100!

11:02 AM  
Blogger andersimp said...


I think Dave looks better than you do. We will all be thinking of you for 24+ hours as you run Mohican.


9:01 AM  
Blogger andersimp said...

you gotta add me to your list!

10:27 PM  

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