Friday, July 25, 2014

Race # 36 - Promise Land 50k++

Promise Land 50k++
Race #3 of the 2014 Beast Series
5:30 AM
Bedford, VA
Time: 6:36:59
Place: 103 out of 334 finishers

Disclaimer:  Writing this three months after the race, I've forgotten a lot of it.  

The third race of the 2014 Beast Series was the Promise Land 50k.  I had heard great things about this race and was looking forward to completing the next step in this year's Beast Series.  With a start time of 5:30am, it was best to head up the day before and camp out which adds to the awesome race experience.  Jon and I headed up that afternoon and got settled in with our tents before going to chow down on some pizza and a ton of junk food desserts.  It was ridiculous how many sweets we had at this place.  The pre-race briefing was the standard Dr. Horton heckling quite a few and lecturing all of us not to be stupid the next day and miss certain turns etc.  As darkness fell though, it was time to turn in so we were ready for the next day's race.

I slept about as well as I could in a tent in a field with a few hundred other people and of course awoke before my alarm was even set to go off.  Still a bit chilly outside, I stayed in the tent as long as possible before lining up with everyone else.  Soon though we had the national anthem and were sent on our way as it just started getting light.  I decided to go without headlamp since the first few miles were on a gravel road.  I figured there would be enough light from everyone else's headlamp around me.  After reaching the end of the gravel road part, we headed up our first trail.  The first five miles were all uphill.  Once we reached the top of the first mountain we began descending which was nice for a change.  

We crossed over the Blue Ridge Parkway and hit some nice trails that were semi-technical.  I enjoyed that part.  After a little down, it was time to head back up again before reaching the highest point of the course.  The next eight miles were mostly downhill and I ran a decent pace on this section.  Then came a long section through the woods that seemed like grassy roads.  I ran this with a friend and we kept leap frogging each other.  I would walk the ups and she would run the ups and pass me.  I would pass her on the downs.  

Soon enough I hit the trail that lead to the finish.  I felt great so decided to run.  I passed several people and started looking at my watch.  I didn't know exactly how long the race was but I knew I would be flirting with 6 hours 30 minutes to finish.  So I ran as fast as I felt comfortable without blowing things up to where I would be hurting the next day.  After a couple of miles though I knew I wasn't going to beat 6:30 and the gravel road was starting to hurt so I took it easy and just made sure no one passed me on the way in.  I finished in 6:36:59 and enjoyed a wonderful post-race meal watching the other runners come in on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Some pics from the run:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Race # 35 - Pilot Mountain Payback Trail Marathon

Pilot Mountain Payback Trail Marathon
9:00 AM
Pinnacle, NC
Time: 4:48:40
Place: 14th out of 42 finishers

The Pilot Mountain Payback marathon is one of my favorite races.  It was my first marathon back in 2011.  I train on the course most weekends.  It's local so my family is able to come watch.  It's just a great race.  Usually held in February, it was postponed this year due to the 18 inches of snow we received just days before the race.  While the snow made for a brutal Holiday Lake 50k, it allowed me to pencil in PMPB after not thinking I would be able to race it this year.

When held in February, the race begins at 9am given sunrise time, etc.  When I registered for the race, I'm almost certain the website stated the race began at 8am, which made sense given that A) sunrise is much earlier in April than in February and B) generally speaking it's warmer in the spring than the winter.  The night before the race I even checked the website and there was a clock counting down to 8am Saturday morning.  But it also said the race began at 9am.  I didn't know what to believe.

Nevertheless, Jon and I showed up around 7:15 that morning ready to run.  We were the first runners there.  A couple of guys from the timing company had just started unpacking and I asked what time the race started.  One of them said 9:00.  I said, "You know the website has a countdown to 8am, right?"  To which he replied, "Not my job, buddy."  I guess he woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  The race was under new management this year, and immediately I was not impressed.

With over 90 minutes to spare before the start, and since Jon and I had decided not to race, but instead just treat this as a long training run, we headed out for a warmup.  I showed him some trails he had never ran before and ended up doing a nice 3.6 miles before the race start.  We spent the last few minutes before race talking to a few friends and soon we headed off.

The first of many creek crossings comes within 100 ft. of the start line.  You can't avoid getting wet in this race.  A long uphill gravel road after that and while a lot of people were running up, Jon and I decided to walk.  After running this parts of this course almost every weekend, and this being my fourth year running the race, I know it like the back of my hand.  I know that pace is key.  If you start out too fast, the second half of the race will chew you up and spit you out and you'll end up doing the death march to the finish.  So we walked.  Once we got to the top of the road, the former race director was there to point us to the trail.  We said hello and hit a nice mix of single/double track trail.  Down the hill and back to the road that leads in to the park, we have to cross two more creek crossings.  You can avoid getting wet hear but what's the point?

Outside the first section, we cross a road and hit the Corridor Trail which is a 6.15 mile one way trail that is a constant up and down.  There are few flat sections so you're either going up or running down.  It's a nice section consisting of mostly double track and wider trails, a lot of the time used by horses.  Luckily the horses stayed home for the race as I did not encounter any.  Jon and I ran this section at a comfortable pace while talking amongst ourselves and other runners.

As we near the end of the section, the leaders of the half marathon pass us in the opposite direction.  We cheer and congratulate each runner as they pass by and we concluded the Corridor section with a stop at the aid station.  Half marathon runners turn around here and head back to the start/finish line but full marathon runners cross another road and head up the mountain trail to the summit of Pilot Mountain.  Jon and I are fortunate that we train on this course and given that this was my fourth running of the race, I knew where to go.  Others weren't so lucky.  

Jon and I headed up the mountain trail.  I love this trail.  It's about 2.35 miles one way and a lot of rocky sections.  It helped me prepare for MMT100 as it was the closest thing I could get to the rocky terrain of that course.  We ran the downs and walked the ups.  The day was heating up but it was breezy so tolerable.  Soon we reached the end of the trail which gives you the option to go to the left or right.  Course goes to the left but some people, whom we encountered later, went to the right.  Another blunder.  Regardless, we press on.  As we near another fork in the trail, the previous race director was there to greet us.  We talked for a minute and then continued to the summit.

As we near the top, I could see the school where Summer teaches.  Unfortunately, too many snow days forced them to have Saturday school and it just so happened to be on the day of this race, at which she loves to come be a spectator.  I waved and kept climbing.  

Soon we reached the top and there were my parents and Summer's parents and sweet little Gemma.  She was too busy playing in the dirt to realize I was there.  Expecting me sooner, my mom asked me why I was so slow to arrive.  I told her I was there to run instead of race and that Jon and I were staying together for the day.  We talked for a few minutes but then headed toward the knob.  

The trail that goes around the knob can be ran in any direction.  But I believe in a race, everyone should go the same way.  That was not the case today as the volunteer said we could go either way.  As we finished the loop around the knob, another runner was running toward us and slowed down thinking he was going the wrong way.  We told him they said we could go either way but again, this makes things confusing for runners.  

The next section runs along the west side of the mountain.  The terrain is tough with a lot of steps made out of rocks.  This is also where rock climbers hang out as there are a few sections worth climbing.  This section also intersects where the Mountain trail ends.  Here we encountered other runners who were going the opposite direction as us.  The volunteer who was standing at this intersection said they made a wrong turn.  I wasn't quite clear on what that meant but as we passed the former race director again, he explained to us that those people had taken a right instead of a left at the halfway point and not gone up the mountain trail.  Total mind blow as this could have easily been avoided with a simple sign directing the runners to the Mountain trail.  

Jon and I press on though and head down the Grindstone trail.  It's about a mile downhill, semi-steep in one part.  The end of the downhill puts you right at the campground and some nice single track trail the leads to the visitor's center.  I always enjoy running this section because it is twisty and curvy, up and down.  The Grindstone trail ends and the Grassy Ridge trail begins and more of the same, nice trails that take you to the park perimeter.  Some gravel road trail and some double track and soon we're back at the half marathon turnaround aid station.  We didn't stay for long here and headed back onto the Corridor Trail that takes you to the finish.

It was beginning to warm up as we headed down this section.  Another runner, Mark, had joined Jon and I.  We talked for quite a while as Jon ran behind us.  It seemed as though the heat was getting to him or something.  Eventually he told us to continue ahead so we did.  Soon enough Mark had to stop as well and I kept going.  I was feeling good.  I picked up the pace a little and started looking at my watch.  I had said I wanted to run under 5 hours, which was still achievable.  Although I wasn't there to 'race', I still had that mentality as I drew closer to the finish.  I didn't want to be passed.  So I kept picking up the pace which was tough because temps had risen into the 80's by this point.

I came to the end of the Corridor trail and crossed the road and hit the trail into Yadkin Island Park.  Only a mile or so to the finish.  Crossing one creek, I come out on the gravel road entrance and see another friend already in his car leaving.  I stopped to say congratulations and he informed me he finished in 3rd place.  An amazing job since I believe it was his first race of this distance.  

Two more creek crossings, the second of which was almost knee high (which felt really good), and the finish line was in sight.  No one to pass.  No one to pass me.  I cruised in with a time of 4h48m40s.  Good enough for 14th place out of 42 finishers.  Jon came in about 13 minutes later.  It was a good run for us but obviously could have been handled better by race management.  There was nothing left to snack on at the end either so we quickly departed for home.  Satisfied with the day, we had covered almost 28 miles with about 4,500 ft. of elevation gain, which proved to be a good long run before Promise Land 50k++.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Race # 34 - Terrapin Mountain 50k

Terrapin Mountain 50k
Race #2 of the 2014 Beast Series
7:00 AM
Big Island, VA
Time: 6:09:30
Place: 77th out of 245 finishers

Two weeks after Lapper's Delight, I ran the Terrapin Mountain 50k which was race #2 in this year's Beast Series.  Looking back, I'm thankful that I didn't run 100 miles.  Once again, I didn't know what to expect.  I knew this race was harder than Holiday Lake, but didn't know the course or what to expect.

I left about 3:20 am and drove to the race which started at 7 am.  As the time drew near, we all gathered for the start and I met Bob who I have known for a couple of years now through running.  We started the race and ran the first few miles together catching up on what was new.  Soon enough we split up and I ran ahead.

The first four miles of the race were all uphill.  Whether gradual or a little steep, it was all going up a mountain.  I loved it.  And for the second Beast Series race in a row, there was a creek crossing at the beginning that forced you to get wet.  I was beginning to sense this was a theme.

Headed up the first climb of the day

We reached the first aid station a little after four miles and I grabbed a quick bite to eat and began the descent down a gravel road.  The descent was a little over five miles.  It was nice to have a change after the initial climb so I rocked the downhill.  I knew I'd probably pay for it later, but little did I know it would be the week after the race.  More on that later.

As the descent came to an end, I noticed my surroundings as beautiful Virginia country.  Who knows how far we were from the closest city.  Mountains all around us and a beautiful day it was shaping up to be.  I came in to the second aid station and again grabbed a little to eat and headed up the road.  I looked around and could see what I thought was the mountain we had just ascended and descended the first nine miles.

The mountain of our first ascent/descent

The next section was some easy running and really nice single track trail that led back to the second aid station.  But once I got to that aid station, I knew what was next.  In mountain trail running, generally speaking, whatever goes up, must come back down.  But also, in a lot of cases, whatever goes down, must go back up.  The five mile downhill we ran earlier in the race was now the next section, but in the opposite direction.  I walked the majority and ran a few times when it was a gentle uphill.  Soon enough, I reached the main aid station for the second time.  A quick bite to eat and it was on to the next section which did sort of a lollipop and brought us back to this aid station.

Some nice single track

As I started out the lollipop section, I was greeted by the leaders of the race.  I didn't know how long this section was, but I knew these leading the race were way ahead of me.  They were looking strong. I was just out there to survive and advance.

The first part of the lollipop section ran along the north side of a mountain so there was lingering snow covering the trail.  With the warm temperatures, avoiding the snow meant running through mud.  Classic case of pick your poison.  I, like most runners I'm sure, chose the mud. We soon rounded the mountain and were in the sun which meant better terrain.  There was a long uphill climb of which I walked the majority.  I had played leapfrog with another runner most of the day and he and I matched strides and struck up a conversation.  I had heard of an infamous climb called the 'Apple Orchard' but couldn't remember what race it was.  He informed me it was the next race, Promise Land 50k.  We ran together for a while talking about the races in the Beast Series, the courses, and what was to come in the remainder of this race.  Eventually we made our way to the 'stick' of the lollipop and returned to the aid station where we started.

I grabbed a gel and some food and started the climb up Terrapin Mountain.  I was told this climb would be the toughest but wasn't quite a mile so not too long.  Then the back side was pretty steep.  In a line with other runners, we were walking up the trail and it was a little slow for me so I made a pass and hiked faster.  Eventually reaching the top, we were to go to one edge where there was a lookout and a tool to use to poke a hole in our bib number stating we had made it to this turnaround.  I stopped for a few seconds to admire the view and take a picture and then kept moving.

Made it to the top of Terrapin Mtn!
Once runners leave this point, we ran along the ridge for a little bit until we reached a section called Fat Man's Misery.  I wondered where this section got it's name and would soon find out.  I was accompanied by a few other runners and we hit a section where we were basically climbing down boulders.  Another spot to punch our bib numbers but the tool to use was broken.  Then I saw it.  A sliver of a hole, maybe three feet wide, that we had to shimmy our way through.  Several thoughts ran through my head.

  1. I'm glad I'm not fat.  I see where this gets it's name.
  2. Thank goodness it is a beautiful day and this spot isn't covered in snow or ice.
  3. You've got to be freaking kidding me!!  Are you serious?!?
A fellow runner sliding down through Fat Man's Misery
 Essentially it was just a small opening between two huge boulders that one had to ease down in to.  Then come out on the other side.  Definitely a new experience for me.  Good thing I'm not claustrophobic!  As we exited the other side, it was time for some downhill.  This wasn't any regular downhill though.  It was STEEP.  I was enjoying it for a while but then my quads were really feeling it.  I knew at that point I was going to be really sore.  I had worked those muscles a lot throughout the day.  As I kept going downhill, trying to keep it under control and not fall down and roll down the mountain, my feet started getting hot spots.  Eventually I made it though and there was some easy downhill running in to the last aid station.

As I was nearing the aid station, I couldn't tell if things looked familiar or not.  Had I been here before?  Was this an aid station we came to earlier?  So many questions.  I asked a fellow runner as she passed me and was completely ignored.  It was then that I realized she had both headphones in.  I don't mind if runners wear headphones, but just use one and not both.

Earlier in the race as I was talking to one runner, he said that the course was short. Maybe around 29 miles.  So as I come in to this aid station, I'm thinking maybe less than four miles to go.  A local Boy Scout troop was manning this aid station, I believe.  I asked how far to the finish and one of them told me eight miles.  I was baffled.  Either I had less than four miles to go, or eight, or somewhere in the middle.  Regardless, it was time to get moving.

As I departed the aid station, I encountered other runners as they were coming in.  Soon I took a trail to the left and no matter the mileage, I was headed for the finish.  This last section though was torture.  The beating my legs had taken the last three miles or so was taking it's toll on me.  My feet needed cooling down.  I wished that creek crossing from the beginning of the race would soon be ahead.  I was entering the bad mood zone.  I was over it.

What's worse than feeling fatigued and ready to finish a race?  Feeling fatigued and ready to finish a race but not knowing how far it is to the finish.  This last section was all mental.  My body was done. It was up to my mind to get me across the finish line.

There were no more climbs.  Just a steady trail of easy ups and downs.  So I ran as much as I could but succumbed to the mental anguish and walked occasionally.  A few people passed me, but I didn't care.  Survive and advanced.

The section seemed endless.  I knew I had to start descending at some point to get to the finish.  But when would the descent begin?  Every time I thought it was beginning, the trail would shift uphill again.  After about three miles, I knew this was it.  My legs were hurting to run but I had to keep telling myself the more I run, the sooner I'll get there.

Eventually, I reached a creek crossing that was so inviting.  The water cooled down my feet and made the last mile or so bearable.  I ended the race just as I began.  The finish line drew near and was soon in view.  No one in front of me to try and run down and there hadn't been anyone behind me for quite some time.  I just trotted in, extremely relieved, finishing in 6:09:30.

Seconds later it seemed, another couple of guys finished.  I had no idea they were so close behind me.  I congratulated them, picked up my shirt and headed for the post-race meal.

In hindsight, this race was great.  I loved it, even though I suffered through the last 10k or so.  The trails were really nice and very challenging.  And if you're wondering, my Garmin read 30.7 miles.  Which meant I had roughly five miles from that last aid station to the finish.  Mental note made for the next time.  I survived, and now advanced to Promise Land 50k, race #3 in the Beast Series.

Garmin Data:

Elevation Profile

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Race # 33 - Lapper's Delight 24 Hour Run

Lapper's Delight 24 Hour Run

9:00 AM
Pinnacle, NC
Distance:  28 laps / 42 miles
Place: 16th out of 20 

I had a great time at the 2013 Lapper's Delight.  It was my first overnight run and I used it to prepare for MMT100.  I did 56 laps in that race for 84 miles.  This year I wanted to hit 100.

The race fell three weeks after a snow covered Holiday Lake 50k and we actually had some snow the week of the race that had me hoping and praying it would melt before the start.  If it was a snow covered course, I knew 100 would be out of the question.

When I showed up Saturday morning, the snow was almost completely gone so I thought there may be a chance at 100 miles.  I checked in with the race director, Glenn, spoke to a few faces I recognized and then set up my personal aid station at my car.  The course was modified slightly but still a 1.5 mile loop.  A course like this has advantages and disadvantages.  It's good because you're never too far away from the aid station but bad because it's not too far from the aid station.  Aid stations contain chairs.  Chairs are bad for ultrarunning.

Gemma and I before the race

Taking a bite of the leftover snow

They got me up too early for this...

Family pic before race start

We started at 9am and the first lap gave us a taste of what was in store for the day.  While the snow was minimal, it was melting fast.  There was one section that was a huge puddle we all chose to go around.  Soon though, there would be soggy grass covered puddles in multiple places.  The back side of the course was behind a line of trees and the snow did not melt as fast.  It would be a tricky spot to maneuver and not bust your rear.

All smiles for the start

I tried to run my own pace and not worry about the other runners' paces.  This is always hard to do, especially early in a race.  Your body is ready to go but remembering to pace yourself is key.  Eventually I slowed down and fell into a good rhythm.  After the first lap, I passed the aid station and grabbed a Krispy Kreme donut.  After the second lap, I stopped at my personal aid station and grabbed a slice of bacon.  Only in ultrarunning is it important to have a balanced diet breakfast of donuts and bacon.  Another reason I love this sport.

After four laps, my toes didn't feel good as they kept pushing up against the ends of my shoes.  I was wearing my waterproof Hoka Mafate's.  They had kept my feet dry through the wet spots but I could not continue with it like this.  Soon it would be detrimental if I didn't make a shoe change.  So six miles in, that's what I did.  The following lap I really found out where the puddles were as my feet got wet.  But my shoes would drain and my Darn Tough socks left my feet feeling dry until I circled back around and got them wet again.

I covered 10 laps, 15 miles, in three hours.  I knew I wouldn't be able to keep that pace up for the full 24 hours but figured I'd keep it going as long as I could.  It felt good so I ran with it.  As the day passed, I was making good time.  Mentally though, I kept doing a stupid thing:  Mental Math.10 laps in 3 hours, 20 laps, in 6 hours, 30 laps in 8 hours, etc.  Keep up the pace and that's 80 laps in 24 hours.  I was an idiot for thinking like this.  In hindsight, I needed to just say 3 laps to the next aid station.  Just keep moving.  Treating it like a normal ultra would have been a better plan.

Soon though, I was about to hit the 6 hour mark.  Sure enough, I finished my 20th lap right at 6 hours.  I decided on that lap that I was going to sit down for the first time.  Another stupid mistake.  Why did I even bring that chair with me?  I sat and contemplated what my plan was.  I didn't feel great.  I knew that it would be a long struggle if I kept going through the evening and into the night.  Was it worth it? 

The afternoon soon stretched into the evening and although it wasn't official, I had thrown in the towel mentally.  I knew I couldn't get 100 miles in 24 hours. Do I stay out and keep moving though, just so I'm not a quitter?  Or do I bag it and call it a day and recover faster?

Summer, Gemma, my parents and my nephews showed up as the sun was starting to set.  They were there to encourage me, but I wasn't in the mood to be encouraged.  Summer decided to take a lap with me and we talked.  I told her how I felt and brought up the Geoff Roes article I had read a long time ago where he talked about elites dropping when it just wasn't their day.  He said that while the elites compete to win or do well, if they don't feel like they can do just that, they drop because there's no point in beating up their body anymore than they should and force longer recovery times.  Yes they can finish the distance but what's the point if they knew they couldn't win.  Now I'm no elite runner, but the same holds true.  I could have stayed out there the full 24 hours and probably put up a good 70-80 miles, or more.  But that wasn't my goal.  And this wasn't an 'A' race.  With race #2 of the Beast Series coming up two weeks after, there was no point in risking it.  She agreed with everything I was saying.  So we finished the lap together, I told my parents I was stopping and went to talk to the RD.

Glenn was completely understanding and that meant a lot to me.  I told him my goal and that it wasn't going to happen and it wasn't my day.  He could relate and I immediately came to peace with my decision.  I had no regrets.  Yes I was going to miss being out there all night amongst the ultrarunning community which I enjoy so much, especially at this race, but bigger races were in my near future and this one will be back on the schedule in 2015.

I stopped my watch at 9h30m.  I had covered 28 laps for a total of 42 miles.  While it wasn't what I was hoping for, it was a good day and a good long run.

Garmin Data:

Friday, February 28, 2014

Race # 32 - Holiday Lake 50k++

Holiday Lake 50k++
Race #1 of the 2014 Beast Series
6:30 AM
Appomattox, VA
Time: 6:58:07
Place: 140th out of 281 finishers (314 starters)

I can probably make this the shortest race report ever:

Lap 1:
Road > snow covered trail > snowy slush > knee deep creek crossing > snow covered fields > single-track snow covered trail trying to let leaders pass without falling into lake.

Lap 2:
Single-track snow covered trail passing by those finishing lap 1 without falling into lake > snow/mud fields > knee deep creek crossing > snowy trails turned mud/water > road > finish.

That was about the extent of Saturday's 19th annual Holiday Lake 50k++ held in Appomattox, VA.  Should you choose to continue reading, I can give you a few more details.  Unfortunately I do not have visual proof of the mess that ensued.  You'll have to take my word for it.

After a successful 2013 and completing my first 100 mile race, I did what any ultrarunner would do and planned out 2014.  This year I wanted to complete the Beast Series which is a 6-race year long event held in Lynchburg, VA and the surrounding areas.  Saturday marked race #1 of the series, the Holiday Lake 50k++.  This would be my first race since last May when I completed MMT100.

The week of the race, my hometown saw the largest snowfall in over a decade.  While the race location in Virginia didn't get as much as, they still received 7-8 inches of wet snow Wednesday night and Thursday.  The roads were cleared on Friday as temps rose well above freezing and I hopped in the truck with Jon Westmoreland and headed to Appomattox.  We arrived, checked in, enjoyed the pre-race meal and headed to bed.  Sleeping in a bunk house with 16 other people is ok unless someone is snoring all night!!  I didn't fall asleep until midnight I guess.  Dr. Horton blew the bull horn at 5am.  I hadn't slept that crappy since Massanutten and I've got a 2 year old in the house!

Light rain was falling as we gathered outside for the 6:30am start.  Soon we were off on a crazy nasty adventurous day.  The first half mile is slightly uphill on a road before turning off on to a trail.  I started up front to try and avoid the bottleneck I heard would appear as we entered the trail.  This means I also went out too fast, just as I always preach to myself not to do.  It seemed as though taking 8-9 months off from racing made me forget a lot of things.

Once I got to the trail, I realized just how bad of a day this would be.  The snow was slushy and slick.  Footing was terrible.  Every muscle in my lower body was being used to keep myself upright.  I didn't like this.  Being from NC, my experience running in snow is minimal.  Especially with the amount that fell earlier in the week.  This wasn't fun.  IT WAS WORK!  I wasn't a happy camper.  The snow.  My pace.  The fact that we had to endure this for ~33 miles.  All of that put me in a bad mood.  I kept thinking to myself, just keep going, it'll get better.  Eventually I came to the realization that it wasn't and I just had to stick it out to the end.  I can't quit the first race of the Beast Series.  I was just going to have to suck it up and get it done.

Before the race started, everyone gathered in the dining hall.  I traded a few words with a guy who was running his first ultra.  He said he heard there was a knee deep creek crossing about 15 feet wide seven miles into the race.  I was unaware of this.  And if true, was going to be mad at Jon for not informing me of this!  As I passed through the first aid station grabbing a little food and drink, I was still in a sour mood.  People were passing me, but I didn't care.  I had finally convinced myself to run my race, not get injured, and try to have fun.  A little over six miles in and we come to a creek crossing.  My shoes barely got wet and I was hoping that was the creek crossing he was referring to.  It wasn't.

Just shy of seven miles in, I arrived.  There was no way around it.  Well I take that back.  There probably was.  But I didn't want to look like the wuss and try to avoid it.  I slowed to a walk and went for it.  As expected, it was cold.  My poor planning for the race was then realized.  I only brought one pair of socks, shoes, everything.  I was stuck with wet feet for the rest of the race.  I could only imagine how big the blisters would be but I had hopes my Darn Tough socks would be worth their price and keep my feet in tact.

The next mile to the aid station was jeep road that was a mix of snow and mud.  When I arrived at the aid station, word was spreading that a girl had slipped going in to the creek and broke her leg.  Having broken my leg before, I felt for her and hoped that she could get out of there quickly. 

Eight miles in and I had finally come to peace with the course.  I knew it would be a test of endurance.  I wasn't going to set any PR's.  I just kept telling myself "survive and advance".  Just make it out alive.  The sections were long and alternated from trails through the woods to trails in an open field to trails that followed the paths of power lines/poles.  There wasn't a lot of elevation change so really a lot of running.  The trails were slush.  If you got off the main path that everyone was wearing down, footing was worse.  I could feel my legs getting sore by the minute.

There was a slight downhill coming in to the third aid station.  I had fun almost skating down it as I ran.  I departed and set my sights on the last section before the turnaround.  The race consists of two loops, one clockwise and the other counterclockwise.  As I neared the end of the first loop, the trail ran along the lake short.  With the snow creating tricky foot conditions, and the leaders of the race already on their way back on the second loop, crossing paths was tricky as to not slide down the short embankment into the lake.  Given that the leaders were out there to compete, I did what any runner should do and stopped to let them pass by without interfering.  The last thing I wanted to do was to cost someone valuable time.  We all know I'm not there to win the race!

I arrived at the start/finish area completing the first loop in about 3h15m.  I drank an Ensure I had in my drop bag, grabbed some food from the aid station and set out on the second loop.  I knew a negative split was out of the question, especially since I had gone out as fast as I did.  So I thought to myself if I could do the second lap in 3h45m, I could break 7 hours.  Not ideal for a 50k but given the conditions, I'll take it.

The second loop was the same as the first, just in an opposite direction.  It felt like it was early afternoon but wasn't even 10am yet.  A mile into the second loop, I passed Jon.  We stopped for a bit to talk and he told me that he helped carry the girl who broke her leg out of the creek as he was right behind her when it happened.  Jon is such a kind person.  The night before the race he went with a few big guys and helped pull a girls car out of the snow that had gotten stuck.  He's got his good deeds taken care of for a while.

As I headed back out the lake shore trail, I had to dodge those coming in and again make sure no one slid into the lake.  Eventually all the other runners were gone and I was running by myself.  I ran alone most of the day.  But at one point another runner was behind me and I had almost slipped.  She asked if I was ok and we started a conversation.  We learned we were both running the Beast Series this year.  Soon enough though, I decided that trying to hold a conversation and watch every step I was taking, along with running the pace she wanted to run was out of the question for me.  I told her to go ahead and never saw her again the rest of the race.  Call me the type of person who can't walk and chew gum at the same time.  I can't run and hold a conversation at the same time.  Proof that I train alone A LOT.

As I reached the next aid station, ~20 miles in, the clouds began to break.  The hill I skated down was now an uphill and a spectator had set up a hammock between two trees.  I would have liked to have laid down in that thing for a few minutes, but I had to keep moving.  I was beginning to fatigue, but I tried to think positively about the finish.  If I can make it to the second to last aid station, it's only 8 miles from there.  Then it's a mile to the creek crossing and then three miles to the next aid station, and then only 4 to the finish.

Step by step, mile by mile, just keep moving.  I finally reached that creek.  The cold water was almost enjoyable on my legs.  The other side showed what 300 runners can do to a trail.  The snow had been turned to water and mixed with dirt to form mud.  It was nasty.  I kept trying to avoid the water puddles.  Why?  Who knows.  That was stupid.  My feet were already soaked.

I made it to the final aid station and one of the volunteers said I looked pretty clean from the ankles up.  I was thinking to myself, that's because I haven't fell down.  I knew not to say it because I would soon enough do just that.  I grabbed some food and a handful of gummy bears and set out for the finish.

The trails through the woods were also trampled to death.  You had two choices.  1:  Run in the trenched out ditch filled with icy cold muddy water or 2:  Run in the snow slush on either side of the watery ditch.  Since I was already soaked, I chose option 1.  Yes my feet were numb, but I knew I would soon be done.  I was actually feeling pretty good though.  Running through the mud wasn't that bad and I was actually running at a good pace.  I passed quite a few people and just kept saying the faster I run the sooner I'm done.  Once again, the highs and lows of ultrarunning made themselves evident in the days race.  I always hit a low point around miles 18-25.  And then I hit a groove after the marathon mark through 50+.  Today was no exception, except I wasn't going beyond 33 miles.  I was feeling it as the finish line drew near.

I passed one person who said a little over two miles to go.  Then I saw the "1 mile to go" mark spray painted in the snow and looked at my watch.  6h47m.  13 minutes to get to the finish.  I knew the road section was coming up soon and I couldn't wait.  I wondered what it would feel like to run on the road after being in the snow all day.  I soon found out.  It hurt.  When your feet are numb and pounding the road, it hurts.  I didn't care.  I was almost flirting with the 7-hour mark so I had to keep it going.

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 6:58:07.  My watch said 32.63 miles.  I don't know what the official distance was supposed to be.  I didn't really care either.  While it was my worst 50k time to date, I know that a race like this builds character than can go a long way.  Especially with five races remaining in the Beast Series.  I also wondered if this would be a sign of future races in the year.  I hope they aren't all covered in snow!

Garmin Data from the race:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2013 - My Year in Review

We're a week into a new year, and I've been thinking about doing this since last year!  Ok maybe for only a few weeks but that was still last year.  I haven't posted anything on this "blog" since June, over a month after I finished my biggest race (thus far) of my running "career".  This is likely more for personal use than anything, so that maybe one day I'll look back and read this and see how the year ended.  So here goes nothing.

After the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 mile run, I felt a sense of accomplishment.  I had achieved my goal that I set in front of me some six months prior in addition to three other events I had signed up for leading up to MMT100.  What else was there to do?  Given my training schedule, I told Summer that if I got in to Massanutten, I would take it easy afterwards and spend the summer with the family and not worry about running long every weekend.  And I did just that.  A couple of beach trips and a trip to Atlanta and the summer was gone.  I did continue running though.

One of the lifeguards at the beach saw me reading ultrarunning magazine and we started talking running.  He was a former NCAA D-1 collegiate runner with a 15:xx PR in the 5,000 meters.  Pretty fast dude.  We laced up the shoes a few times that week and ran through the resort area.  His easy runs were like tempo pace for me.  It was fun though, and it sort of kick started me back into training mode and mentally gave me hopes of maybe increasing my speed while keeping my endurance.  Speed kills.  At least it does with me.  Every time I try to get faster, I end up getting hurt.  I tried to keep this in mind when I was out running, making sure I didn't run fast every day.

In September, I had thoughts of maybe submitting an application for the Hellgate 100k in December.  I figured since I completed MMT100, that may be enough to get me in to Hellgate.  I had also already signed up for Weymouth Woods 100k which is held in January.  However, an ankle sprain threw all of that out of the window.  I ended up running a total of 2 miles in the month of October.  I even went to the doctor to have it x-rayed to make sure I didn't crack something.  I roll my ankles all the time trail running, but something about this one in September was way worse.  I guess I didn't help it by continuing to run for the next two weeks without giving it some rest.  I'm stubborn like that.  It finally healed though and I got back in to training mode.

Finishing the MMT100 meant that I had qualified for both the Western States 100 and the Hardrock 100 for 2014.  Both of these are at the top of my bucket list of races.  The results of the lottery for these two would determine what my 2014 racing schedule looked like.  The day came and went and to no surprise, I was not selected for either.  It was clear then what I would be doing in 2014. 

At my first 50k, I met Jon Westmoreland who, in addition to becoming my pacer for MMT100, was also competing in the Beast Series that year.  I had never heard of this but was intrigued.  When I got home, a quick Google search turned up a year long race series that peaked my interest.  Maybe not for 2013, but I knew that one day I wanted to do this.  This year I will.

The Beast Series consists of the following races:

February 15 - Holiday Lake 50k +
March 22 - Terrapin Mountain 50k
April 27 - Promise Land 50k ++
October 3 - Grindstone 100
November 1 - Mountain Masochist Trail run (50M)
December 14 - Hellgate 100k

In addition to these races, I plan on doing the Lappers Delight 24 hour run at Jomeokee Park March 8-9.  This was my first 24 hour run last year and my first time running through the night.  It proved to be a huge help when I got to MMT100.  In a perfect world I would like to also run the Iron Mountain Trail Run 50 miler Labor Day weekend as this would serve as a great final long run before Grindstone, but we'll see how things go.  This weekend, January 11, I will be doing the Falls Lake FA near Durham.  It ranges from 26-53 miles.  My plan is to go at least 40.  We'll see how I feel. 

If I complete each race, this would definitely prove to be a huge year for me.  My main goal is to stay healthy throughout though.  I haven't had a year of running yet where I didn't have to take some time off due to either an overuse injury or something else.  I'm hoping I can break that spell in 2014. 

I'll leave you with my favorite photo from this year. Coming in to the finish of the MMT 100 at 32:35:47.

Photo courtesy Tom Toogood

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Race # 31 - Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run

photo by Bobby Gill

Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
4:00 AM
Fort Valley, VA
Time: 32:35:47
Place: 97th out of 151 finishers (198 starters)

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really.  Get busy living.  Or get busy dying."
       --Andy Dufrain, The Shawshank Redemption

In December of 2012, I threw my name in the lottery for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run.  "What are the chances?" I thought.  I doubt I get picked, but if I do, it'll be time to get busy and train.  Lucky me, I 'won the lottery'.  I waited almost until the last minute to pay my entry fee and the moment I clicked submit, the quote above immediately came to mind:  "Get busy living, or get busy dying."  Life is about taking chances, and this would be one of the biggest I've ever taken.  You only get one first of everything in life, and if successful, this would be an epic first 100 miler.

The race website includes race reports from previous years' runners so I read each and every one of them.  I watched YouTube videos.  I Google searched 'Massanutten 100' numerous times trying to find anything and everything about this race.  I wanted to make sure I had done my homework and was as prepared as I possibly could be by the time I got to the start.  Usually this is a good thing, but sometimes you read things you shouldn't.

When reading one runner's recap of his race, he presented the highs and lows he experienced.  Typical, just like others I had read.  But somewhere in this racer's text they had written:  "Do not do Massanutten as your first 100".  Instantly, doubt filled my head.  What have I gotten myself into?  Can I do this?  What if I fail?  Is it really that hard?  Just how hard is it?  When I told Summer about this, as usual, she reassured me that I can do this and to quit worrying.  That this was only one runner's point of view and I wouldn't be the first (or last) person to make MMT my first 100 miler.  Since Summer believed in me, it was my turn.  I had to believe in myself.  I had to believe in my training. 

Training was simple.  In addition to the normal 4-6 hour runs on Saturdays, I was already registered for a 100k in January (which I decided to DNF at the 50k mark since I was coming off an injury), a trail marathon in February, and a 50 miler in April.  Later I would add a 24 hour run in March to give me a race per month to prepare for this massive undertaking.  These races, along with my normal long runs which included as much elevation and rocky terrain as possible, would have to suffice.  Being four hours from the race site, attending the training runs the race held leading up to the event weren't really an option.   I just hoped everything I did was good enough to get me to the finish line.

I counted down the days for months.  Finally, May 17th arrived and it was time.  I asked my friend Jon to come pace me and he graciously agreed.  I had a supportive crew that consisted of my wife Summer and our sweet baby Gemma, my parents, and Summer's parents.  They were all willing to give up their weekend to come see me (briefly) at aid stations, to support me throughout the race, and most importantly, to be there when I (hopefully) crossed the finish line of my first 100 miler.

We made the drive up and arrived in time to get checked in and hear the pre-race meeting.  They informed us of many topics including the course marking (which proved to be excellent), the ticks (they were everywhere), and what we had to do if we decided to drop (we had to turn in our bib number instead of keeping it).  I was determined to take that bib number home with me.  Soon it was time for dinner and then I headed to the cabin where I had a bunk bed reserved.  Since the race began at 4am, I did not want to trouble my crew so early and make them try to get me from the hotel to the start in the middle of the night.  This meant that I would not see them until the 33.3 mile mark which was the first crew-accessible aid station (AS) they could see me at (unless they wanted to get to the 12 mile AS prior to 7am to catch me there).  We all said our goodbyes and I set up camp in the cabin and hung out with a few other guys on the porch.

The three gents whom I would be rooming with were all veterans of MMT.  We spent the evening conversing about the course, the race, the previous years in which they ran, and many other running related topics.  Darkness soon fell though and it was time to turn in.  I was hoping to get a good 5 hours of sleep at least.  That plan failed as a group of five other runners entered our cabin as they had just showed up for the next day's race.  They spent the next hour unpacking and preparing their gear.  I tried to sleep, but the lights, noise, and lack of air conditioning made it impossible.  Finally, sometime close to 11pm, the lights went out.  I spent the next hour or so tossing and turning trying to fall asleep.  I never have trouble sleeping before a race and this night's sleeplessness was not caused by nerves or anxiety, but instead maybe because of an unfamiliar environment, or lack of a real bed.  Who knows.  I had my alarm set for 3am but soon enough I was awake and it was 2:40.  As I laid there in bed, I thought about how long it may be until I was in that same position.  I had no idea what the course of the next day and a half would have in store for me, but there was only one way to find out.  The lights soon came on and it was time to get ready.  Soon thereafter we made our way to the start.  Six months of training, waiting, and anticipating.  It was all over.  It was go time.

I checked in with race coordinators, and met up with Larry, a friend through Facebook who was there to get his name off the 'Visitor's list', and complete this race some call the toughest 100 miler east of the Rockies as a member of the Solo Division.  Competitors classify themselves members of the Solo Division by having no crew, no pacer, and using no headphones for the entire race, something that would take true mental diligence to accomplish in my opinion.  He asked if I was nervous and surprisingly, for some reason I wasn't.  A quick picture together and we were soon counting down from 10.  The red numbers of the race clock showed 4:00 am when myself and 197 other runners all set off on the same journey:  To cover 103.7 miles by foot in 36 hours or less.

As we started, the music that filled the air around the start line soon faded, and sounds of footsteps and light chatter were all I heard.  The first four miles of the race were a mix of pavement and gravel road that lead up to the base of Short Mountain, our first trail section.  Since we were all so close together, I found no need for my headlamp until we reached the trail head.  Here I got to run a little, but that soon ended as I landed in a short line of people, and we all began the hike up Short Mountain. 

Eventually we reached the ridge where we had a few miles of easy running.  The weather was overcast, so there was no sunrise to view.  I was getting my first taste of the Massanutten rocks but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  I assumed it would get worse later which would prove to be a fair assumption.  Back in the short line of runners I was in, the pace was slower than I wanted it to be.  A female was in the front of this pack leading us and although I had over 90 miles remaining, I felt it was too slow.  Eventually some folks asked to pass and I went with them. 

I was a few miles from the first aid station (AS) and already, I was hungry.  This was not good.  I don't know what I was thinking.  I had two bananas before the race start, but that wasn't enough.  I started to get worried that I was in a calorie defecit and hadn't even made it 1/10th of the way through the race.  I sucked down a couple of gels, exactly what I didn't want to do.  Real food is always best, and I was hoping to conserve the gels until later in the race.  But I had no choice.  My stomach was growling.  I had to listen to it.

It was nearing 7am and I got a feeling that Summer would be at the first AS.  This was not part of the original plan.  My first time seeing my crew was supposed to be mile 33.3 which I guessed would be around noon.  But for some reason, I just had this feeling that at least part of them would be there waiting for me.  At 7:01am I rolled into the first AS at mile 12.1 and was so happy to see Summer, Gemma, and my mom all waiting for me.  Gemma did her part in waking up early and they decided to come see me.  It was such a welcomed surprise.

I immediately got into our cooler and slammed an Ensure.  These would be a staple for me throughout the race as the 330 liquid calories go down easily.  I ate some cookies and cheese (what a combo right?), refilled my handhelds, grabbed some pretzels for the trail, said my goodbyes and was off on the next section. 

The climb out of this aid station was probably a little over 1.5 miles.  I was alone most of the time but I soon caught up to a small group.  I stopped for a nature break though and lost them.  As I started back running, I heard another runner coming up behind me.  I let him pass and realized who it was.  The legend, Gary Knipling.  They could name this race after Gary.  At 69 years young this year, he completed it for the 16th time.  Absolutely amazing.

For my birthday, Summer bought me the DVD "Two Runners, 100 Miles" which is a documentary from the 2006 MMT100 showing Gary and another runner, Kerry Owens and their quest to complete this tough race. That was where I saw how social, outgoing, and just downright cool Gary was.  I had hoped I would get to meet him during my first 100.  At the pre-race festivities, I saw him passing out laminated cards to some runners that showed the aid stations, distances between, and cutoff times of each.  I had made myself something similar, but forgot to print it out.  I failed to ask him about it as I figured he only printed off ones for certain runners.

Meanwhile, back on the trail, as he passed by, I called out his name and then introduced myself.  Recently becoming 'friends' on Facebook, he knew who I was.  He also spoke to my mom a little at the pre-race festivities and mentioned that.  I just told him it was an honor to meet him and wished him luck the rest of the race.  He asked me to grab something out of his pack and I agreed.  It was one of the laminated cards.  He told me to take it and keep it for the race and although it had another runner's name on it that he couldn't find the day before, it would still be beneficial to me.  I graciously agreed and was glad to have it.  It would come in handy later on.  A true class act, I was so happy I got to meet Gary.

We both headed on up the trail and soon enough, I was running alone again at my own pace, just how I like it.  Then came a downhill that stretched for a couple of miles and soon leveled out to be some decent running.  This section was 8.1 miles that would soon lead into the Woodstock Tower AS where I had my first drop bag.

I came into it feeling fresh having the first 20% of the race done.  Weather was still lovely and I took advantage of all the AS had to offer.  The food was great and they had a bucket of water with wash cloths to wipe down with.  Such a wonderful idea.  I downed another Ensure and grabbed the honey bun I had packed in my drop bag.  Honey buns were also a staple for me during a long race like this.  They pack well for the trail too.

Sadly, there was one person there at this AS who was dropping.  Such a terrible thing given we were only a little over 20 miles into the race.  The race director was there and I overheard him agree to take the runner to another AS closer to the start.  I felt for him given it was only a little after 9 in the morning and months of training were now gone.

The next few miles were again runnable as this AS was one of the few that didn't have a climb coming out of it.  Shortly after getting back on trail, we were given an amazing view as the trees cleared and we could see out.  I had to stop for a photograph.

We then came up on a photographer who was taking pictures of the runners.

Photo courtesy Bobby Gill

Photo courtesy Bobby Gill

Myself and another runner stopped to capture the moment while the photographer snapped a few of us in the moment.

Photo courtesy Bobby Gill

He volunteered to take a picture with my phone in front of the overlook while there were no runners coming. 

 A downhill section took me into Powell's Fort AS.  No crew and no drop bags.  I tried not to spend too much time here but I had to make sure I ate enough as it was 7.5 miles to Elizabeth Furnace AS where I would see me entire crew for the first time.  This was the first AS that had bacon so I took advantage.  However, this bacon should have came with a disclaimer.  I grabbed some that was just cooked and it was extremely hot.  I cooled it down with some strawberries and then grabbed a waffle and some syrup to go and headed out of there on my way to see my crew.

The climb out of this AS was gradual and eventually came to an apex.  Then we began a long downhill to Elizabeth Furnace.  I played leap frog with a few runners on this section and I believe it was here that we passed a lady hiking who mentioned she saw an 'adolescent cub' a couple of miles down the trail from where we were.  I kept my eyes peeled but luckily the cub and I never crossed paths.

Massanutten trails

Some Massanutten rocks

Yet another climb

There were several switchbacks on this section and since this downhill was around 4 miles long, occasionally I had to stop and walk just to give my legs a break.  Not that I was running fast, but it was still very early in the race and I had to be careful not to blow out my quads or something similar that could plague me later.

Soon enough, I emerged from the woods to crowds of people cheering me on including my mom who told me she just wanted to see me come off the trail and into the AS, which was still a few hundred feet away.

Coming in to Elizabeth Furnace aid station, mile 33.3
Elizabeth Furnace AS was a small picnic shelter that had a lot of great food.  I grabbed my drop bag, downed an Ensure, and then proceeded to change shoes.  My feet were fine, but I had planned to make three shoe changes during the race including socks and aquaphor so I stuck with the plan.  I had socks in a lot of drop bags in case it rained or there were deep stream crossings, but they were never needed.  I also swapped out my Nathan vest for my Salomon pack which had two extra handhelds.  I came into Elizabeth Furnace at 12:45 PM, so I was entering the heat of the day, if you wanted to call it that.  The weather was still cooperating and the overcast skies were keeping the temperatures from being too bad.  Still I wanted the option of having extra water in case I needed it.  The next two sections though were short compared to what I had been running so the extra handhelds didn't need to be filled up completely.

Switching from one pair of Hokas to another!
Downing some food!
Posing with my beautiful wife before heading back out
Mouth full of grapes and Gemma wanting to play in the plate of salt.

I was so happy to see my crew, but I knew I had to get moving.  It was 4.7 miles to the next AS and I would get to see everyone there again.  So I left out alone and headed up another climb.  This one was only about 1.5 miles and soon turned into a downhill.  As I drew closer to the Shawl Gap AS, we departed the woods and entered some trail that was exposed but since the clouds were out, it wasn't as bad as it could be.  I came up on a runner who had a bandaged knee that looked like it was in bad shape.  I asked him how it was and he simply responded "it's reminding me that it's there".  That would definitely be a long road ahead with 65 miles remaining and a bum knee already.

As I was coming in to Shawl Gap AS, another photographer was taking pictures of runners.  He said some words to me that seemed like he was talking to someone he knew.  Days after the race, I finally figured out it was another Facebook friend whom I had talked to for months about the race.  I had forgotten he was leading this AS so after the fact, I had to apologize for my cluelessness.

Gemma walking around the AS
photo courtesy Rob Dolan
 My crew was waiting for me and asked me how things were going.  38.1 miles in and I was still feeling pretty good.  This AS was dubbed as "The Bacon Station" so I had a few pieces, along with some oranges and cookies.  Another Ensure, a half quesadilla to go and I was soon on my way.  I wouldn't see my crew again until mile 54, which was 16 miles away.  I would be half way done at that point.  Only a short 5k to the Veach Gap AS and it was all road, some paved, some gravel.

Coming in to Shawl Gap AS
photo courtesy Rob Dolan

Oranges and bacon for me at "The Bacon Station"
photo courtesy Rob Dolan

photo courtesy Robin Denny
The road to Veach Gap AS was torture, as was every other road in the race, even though they were few and far between.  I just did not like being on pavement.  I tried to run on the shoulder when I could.  The gravel road wasn't as bad but it was a lot of uphill which I walked.  I soon rounded a corner and had reached Veach Gap AS.

The volunteers here, as well as every other AS were very welcoming.  They refilled my bottles as always, and offered me everything they had.  Again the bucket of wet towels was amazing.  I washed my face off and that was heavenly.  I had some fruit, Reese's Pieces, a quarter PB&J, another Ensure, threw my honey bun in my pack, grabbed a piece of turkey, and again headed on my way.  It was 9 miles to the Indian Grave AS, so another long section.  It started with a pretty significant climb, which would prove, in my opinion, to be one of the toughest of the entire race.

As I started on the trail, I took a bite of the turkey but it did not taste right.  Maybe because it had been sitting out in the warmer temps, who knows.  But I immediately spit it out and literally almost gagged and threw up.  I was really hoping to avoid that.  I could not afford to lose everything I had consumed as I was about to head up this climb and do a 9 mile section.  Luckily I was able to hold it down.  I took a nature break (bear attack), and then kept on truckin'.

The climb out of Veach Gap was ridiculous.  It was around 2 miles long probably, and was just one of those steep climbs where I could see exactly where I had to go and it looked never-ending.  Once I got to the part where I thought it ended, it just took a slight right turn and kept going up even further as far as I could see.  Not to mention that to my left, there was probably a thousand foot drop off the side of the mountain.  One wrong step and it's a long way down.

A photographer had hiked up this trail and found a nice perch to sit and take photos of the runners.  When I came upon him, I told him he was crazy to climb up this thing just to take pictures, but I thanked him for doing just that and smiled for the camera.

photo courtesy Aaron Schwartzbard

Once I finally reached the top of this brutal climb, I was up on the ridge but unfortunately, the terrain didn't really permit running.  The same drop-off to the left, and very rocky and uneven terrain kept me walking.  Some of it didn't even seem walkable!  But I took it slow and kept my footing and finally made it through this demanding section.  I then caught my second wind.  Well, maybe not second.  I don't know what number it was.  But I was feeling good.  Running felt good, and I had to take advantage of it while it lasted.  Ride the wave as long as I could.

After being on the ridge for a while, I dropped down and had a nice downhill that carried me into the Indian Grave AS.  I caught up with another Facebook friend, Kim.  She was having a grilled cheese which looked fantastic so I put in an order for one.  This AS had ice too so I got to fill up my handheld with some cold water.  I asked the volunteers what the next sections were like and the debate began on whether the climb out of Veach Gap was worse than the climb out of Habron Gap.  I had no idea what it would be like after Habron, but I knew if it were anything close to what I did when I left Veach, it was going to be extremely tough.  I had some fruit and a grilled cheese, and then a large handful of Reese's Pieces to go then I headed off on the next 4.1 mile section to Habron Gap.

This section was mostly flat gravel road.  I ran a good bit of it but the generic, plain terrain seemed to make my body feel like it was taking a beating.  So I would play the landmark game where I would run to a certain landmark and then walk.  Then pick another landmark where I would start running again, and do this over and over until the Habron Gap AS was in sight.  Once it was, I steadily rolled in to see my crew.

It was around 6:45 PM when I arrived.  I was over half way done.  Mentally, in an ultramarathon, I think of it like a roller coaster with the climb up, the apex, and then the climb down.  The first half is the left side of this picture, half way is the apex, and then the second half is the right side, the downslope.  I know that anything can happen in the course of a long distance race such as this, but I always try to keep thinking that once you reach the half way mark, each step you take is literally getting you closer to the finish and there is no reason to quit.

I decided to change shirts here and really took my time.  The next section was 9.8 miles, the longest of the race.  I would also transition into darkness on this section.  I felt great.  I had an ice cream sandwich and many other things including an Ensure.  I reloaded my gel stock, grabbed my handheld flashlight and my secondary headlamp from my drop bag.  I had saved my good headlamp for Camp Roosevelt and had planned to try and get there before dark.  That wasn't going to happen.  I was so happy to see my crew.  Did I mention how good I felt?  For being 54 miles into this race, I couldn't believe how I felt.  But I guess you could say the fun run was over and the real race was about to start. This was the calm before the storm....

I taped Gemma's picture to my handheld bottle so she would always be with me and give me inspiration.

All smiles....for the time being

The extent of how dirty I got

< Insert caption here >

Gemma gave me a good luck kiss for the next section

Smiling again.....but not for long
And a good luck kiss from Summer.  I sure needed it I would soon find out.

I left Habron Gap AS and immediately started climbing.  On this section, I would climb up a mile or two, then run along the ridge for a few miles, and then a descent followed by a few miles of short ups and downs until reaching the Camp Roosevelt AS where I would pick up my pacer for the night.  The climb was ridiculous again.  I don't know which climb was worse:  The one out of Veach Gap or this one.  I guess it's whichever one you're doing in the moment.  So that being said, this climb was the worst.  There were switchbacks and long ascents where you could see ahead but couldn't tell where the end was.  Soon enough though, I made it to the top of the ridge.

Daylight was fading as I was running along the ridge.  My Garmin beeped notifying me of low battery.  Not to worry.  I had a small Duracell battery backup device that I could plug my watch in to and it would keep recording while it charged.  I bought this watch (Garmin 310XT) exactly for this reason.  I'm a sucker for the numbers and looking at the data about my run on the Garmin site.  So I stopped and got out the charger and plugged up the watch to it.  Then, all of a sudden, I looked at the face of the watch and there was nothing.  It was off.  I was completely dumbfounded.  What in the world had happened?!?  I was about to be super mad.

As I turned the watch back on, for some reason I was hopeful everything would still be there.  That was stupid.  There was no chance!  There I stared at the face of the watch, looking at all zero's, as if it was looking back at me saying "Ok boss I'm ready to record data for you so get running!"  I couldn't believe it.  The whole first half of the race was gone.  At the end of the day, it really wasn't that big of a deal and I really shouldn't have been getting so worked up about it.  I tried to put it in the past and remember the real reason I was out there.  So I restarted the data recording, turned on my headlamp, and headed on down the ridge.

Soon it was almost completely dark and my secondary headlamp I had packed for this section wasn't cutting it.  Another minute thing that caused me to waste mental energy.  I grabbed my handheld flashlight and started using it.  But this was difficult as I had two handheld bottles I was carrying.  One by one, minor issues were mounting.

Then it hit me.  The one thing that I really should be concerned about.  I had no idea what mile I was at, or how many more miles it was to the aid station.  The last time I saw mileage on my watch before it shut off I was at 56.xx.  I had to get to 63.9, but I didn't know how much was remaining.  In a race of this magnitude, you can't think about the whole thing.  You go aid station to aid station, finishing section by section.  In a way, I was running blind since I didn't know how far I was to completing this section.  I was officially down in the dumps.  It was completely dark now, and I was moving at an incredibly slow pace.  For the first of what would be many times, the thought of "Am I ever going to get to the aid station" crept into my mind.  I was discouraged.  I wanted to be done with this section.  I was ready to pick up my pacer so I wasn't alone.  I was ready to be done with the longest section of the race.

I tried to gather myself.  Up ahead I could see another headlamp.  I closed in on the runner and eventually asked if he knew how far it was to the AS.  He said probably around 3-4 miles.  I asked if he was familiar with the course and he was.  He told me what the course was like leading in to the AS, I thanked him, and then sped up trying to cover ground as quickly as possible.  I knew it would probably be at least an hour before I was done with this section.  Of course, the 'Am I ever going to make it to the aid station' thought came into my head.  That would become a habit the remainder of the race.  I was down in the dumps.  A low point of the race.  Physically I was fine.  Mentally, I was over it.  I was nearing 18 hours into the race.  Half way there according to time but more than half way in distance.  Night time was in full effect and I knew that if I could make it through the night, I would be ok.  All I could think about though was getting to Camp Roosevelt, seeing my crew, and picking up my pacer to join me for the rest of this adventure.

Months before MMT100, I pondered who I could get to pace me.  Being my first 100 attempt, I knew it  would be beneficial to have someone accompany me, especially through the night.  Summer suggested my friend Jon.  He was a local ultrarunner that I saw out on the local trails at Pilot Mountain State Park a few years ago.  I ran into him at my first ultra, the Uber Rock 50k, and then at my first 100k, the UROC 100k.  We made small talk at those races since we were from the same area.  However, we never trained together.  He trained alone as did I.  We had different schedules though as I was required to start training before dawn in order to get home and spend time with the family.  After being asked, Jon graciously agreed to pace me at MMT, as long as he didn't get in off the wait list.  As the days counted down and the race drew near, we watched as his name made it's way to the top of the wait list. I was getting nervous.  He agreed to pace me no matter what, but wanted to keep his name on the wait list so he would have priority next year if he didn't get in.  So I didn't want him to get in so that he kept his priority status.  Luckily, May 7 came as the last day to withdraw and Jon was number two on the list.  Talk about a close call!

It was 10:00 PM.  18 hours had passed since I crossed the start line and I had made over 63 miles thus far.  Finally, I made it to Camp Roosevelt.  This AS was less than half a mile to the Start/Finish line.  For that reason, it's the most common place to drop from the race.  If you make it to Camp Roosevelt and drop, you are given a 'Visitor's award'.  A rock with a plaque on it to remind you that you didn't make it the full 103.7 miles.  I did not want to take home a rock.  I came for a buckle, and it was going to take more than my mind to cause me to go home without it.

Finally, at 10:09 PM, I had made it to Camp Roosevelt.  My crew was anxiously awaiting me.  It had taken me almost three and a half hours to cover 9.9 miles, but I made it.  I threw it all at my crew.  "It's over.  I'm done.  I'm over it.  This is stupid."  These are all things I said in the 24 hour race I ran in March when it was almost midnight.  Summer told me the day before the race that I would get to that point, but I had to push through.  That's what ultrarunning is all about.  You're going to have highs, and you're going to have lows.  What makes or breaks a race is whether or not you can pull yourself from the depths of the lows and continue moving forward.  It's all mental.

Deep down, I knew I was full of it.  I knew I wasn't going to quit.  I had my parents and in-laws that had given up their weekend and paid for a hotel room all to come and support me.  My wife had wrangled a 1 year old all day and night just so they could see me a few minutes at a time throughout the entire day.  And Jon had driven four hours to give up his weekend and run with me through the night.  There was no way I was going to quit.  I just had to vent at this point with everything that had happened on the previous section.  Physically, I was fine.  Nothing hurt.  My feet were in great shape.  Quads were fine.  I was actually doing a lot better than some people that had came through Camp Roosevelt AS according to my crew.  And I was not alone in the fact that I came into it saying the previous section was awful etc.  Apparently that section makes or breaks your race.

I can't put into words how amazing my crew and pacer were at this aid station.  Only Summer had seen me in this condition before and she knew how to react.  My mom was probably worried about me, not understanding why anyone would want to do this to themselves, and not wanting me to feel this bad anymore.  My dad I could tell was eagerly waiting to anything he could to help.  Jon knew exactly where I was though.  As a fellow ultrarunner himself and having completed several hundreds himself, he knew exactly how I felt.  Everyone's support was pouring out and I was doing my best to show my appreciation even though I just wanted to pause and stop everything for just a few minutes.  I couldn't though.  I had to get it together.

Jon offered to check out my feet and clean them but I told him I would be changing shoes and socks at the next AS since the following section had potential for our feet to get wet.  I traded out my crappy headlamp for my good one, had an Ensure and some Ramen noodles, and made sure I had everything in my pack for the next section.  Then I got up to avoid getting stiff due to inactivity and headed to the food, trying to get more calories in me.  I had some fruit and was slowly pulling myself out of the depths.  Food was getting to the point where nothing sounded good.  When you eat for 18 hours, there isn't much that sounds appetizing.  But you have to keep fueling the fire.  I put on a long sleeve shirt for the night ahead, and soon enough, it was time to head into the darkness.  I said my goodbyes and told my crew I would see them at the finish line and off we went.

Smiling on the outside, full of other emotions on the inside

Discussing our game plan.  Or just staring at each other.  Who knows.

And we're off!
The next section was 5.8 miles to Gap Creek.  From the emails I traded with other veterans in the weeks leading up to the race, this would be a section where I could potentially get wet feet.  I was surprised I had made it this far into the race and not gotten wet yet.  As Jon and I walked along the side of a creek, there was minimal water flowing down the trail.  Had we not been blessed with such amazing weather, it was obvious that we would have had wet feet.

We discussed the first 64 miles of the course.  I told him about the terrain, the climbs, how I had been eating and drinking, and many other things.  I was so thankful to have someone with me for once.  Given that I train alone and usually race alone, I'm not used to having company but it was welcomed at this point.  I told him again, as I did the week before the race, to just get me through the night.  After doing my first overnight race in March, I knew just how another sunrise could rejuvenate a runner, and I was looking forward to it.

The veterans I traded emails with months before the race informed me that the section between Camp Roosevelt and Gap Creek would be the best chance to have wet feet.  Therefore, I planned to change shoes the first time at Gap Creek, mile 69.6.  Luckily, the weather before the race set up the course great and we did not encounter any water that caused us to get wet as the creeks weren't very high.

This section had a pretty tough climb.  It was dark though, so we couldn't tell how far we had to go or where the top was.  Sometimes that's a good thing,  Sometimes not.  I was slow moving though.  My biggest issue throughout the entire night was being sleepy.  My body was fine.  I wasn't hurting like some runners were.  I was just tired.  Once we reached the peak of this climb, it immediately turned downhill.  While somewhat rocky, the downhill was somewhat runnable.  We caught up with a few runners and passed them just before arriving at the Gap Creek AS.

We arrived at Gap Creek the first time at 12:30 AM.  There was a campfire, but I wasn't cold and the heat of it turned me away.  I pulled up a chair and a volunteer was kind enough to bring my drop bag to me.  My amazing pacer, Jon, proceeded to help me with my shoes.  He was eager to do everything he could to help me.  I changed shoes and socks and he grabbed me some food.  Eventually I made my way up to the buffet and they had a lot of hot food but none of it looked appealing to me unfortunately. Jon was enjoying some pierogies though and said they were pretty good.  I didn't even know what a pierogi was so I didn't want to try anything new.  I just stuck with the fruit and same things I had been eating all day.  Soon, we departed for another brutal section.

Kerns mountain is the next climb and one of the worst of the race.  Again, I was moving so slow.  It was as if my legs did not work on the uphills.  We finally reached the ridge and it was so eerie.  Imagine being on the top of a mountain, in the middle of the night pitch black darkness, cool wind occasionally brushing across your skin.  For some of you reading this, you know what I'm talking about.  For the rest, aside from what I just told you, it's indescribable.  I'm not afraid of the dark, but I sure was glad Jon was there with me.  There were times I was getting so tired that I had to sit down on a rock for a few seconds and close my eyes.  If I had been up there alone, I would have probably just stopped to take a nap.  We saw a couple of other runners but they had no pacers.  That was impressive. I just could not imagine doing this by myself.  But then again, this was my first 100 attempt and I felt it was necessary to have a pacer.

As we made our way along the ridge, we were coming to the closing stages of this 8.5 mile section.  All of a sudden, I got this thought/feeling that if I run fast, I can get to the next AS sooner and would be able to sit down.  I told Jon it was time to run and I took off.  The terrain was generous on this section and we took advantage of it.  It felt like I was running a 6 minute pace although I'm sure it was probably around 9 or higher.  When you've been moving for over 20 hours though, breaking into a stride makes you feel like you are flying.  We then exited the woods onto a gravel road.  I stopped and turned back to see why Jon had stopped.  There were a couple of coolers on a table as we came off this trail section.  It was an unmanned AS with water and an almost empty package of cookies.  Jon and I both took one and left the remains for the folks behind us.  I thought to myself how random.  And how dangerous maybe?  To leave an open package of cookies on the top of the mountain in the spring?  Maybe those who did this knew better about the bear population than I did, but it didn't seem wise.  I just imagined coming off that trail section and seeing a bear munching on some cookies.  That'd be nuts!

The final miles of this section were on road.  Whether gravel or paved, it was still road.  I didn't like it.  It hurt, but it had to be done.  Jon did an amazing job of making me run as much as I could.  I would run for a while and then I would take a walk break.  Eventually we could see lights off to the left and assumed it was the Visitor's Center AS.  While we seemed so close, it seemed to take a long time to get there, but we finally arrived at the 78.1 mile checkpoint.  It was 4:11 AM and it had taken me 3 hours and 41 minutes to cover the previous 8.5 mile section..  I was now over 24 hours into this race.

As I came into the AS, Jon told the volunteer with the clipboard my number and I grabbed a chair.  The volunteer walked up to me and proceeded to speak a complete sentence to me.  He might as well have been speaking Swahili because I didn't understand a single word he said and I'm sure the expression on my face proved it.  He repeated himself and it finally registered with me.  His name was Dave and he was another person I knew from the online running world I was involved in.  It was great to finally meet him but the circumstances were pretty crazy.

We sat there next to each other and I just closed my eyes for a few minutes.  I guess you could call it some sort of sleepy trance.  I told Dave about how my race was going, the good and the bad.  He assured me that I had plenty of time and I would definitely be finishing the race.  He was very familiar with this section of course so I had him tell Jon and I what the next few miles were like.  I had some soup and Ensure and grazed again at the well stocked tables.  But again, we had to be on our way so Dave and I said goodbye and we were off.

While I still felt extremely sleepy and tired, I knew the sun was coming up soon and it would be daylight.  Mentally I tried to inspire myself by saying things like "today I will become a 100 mile finisher" and similar things and that it was only a matter of time before I'd be crossing that finish line.  But first, I had to make it to Bird Knob.

As we climbed out of the Visitor's Center AS, we were not alone.  Some runners we passed while others passed us.  Suddenly I looked up at the sky and it was no longer black.  It was turning purple and I reassured myself it would soon be blue.  This climb wasn't all that bad, and it seemed to level off and we were running again.  The sky never turned blue as the clouds that covered the sky on Saturday had decided to stick around on Sunday.  I didn't care.  It was getting light out and we were rolling in to Bird Knob AS.  They had bags of bacon.  Imagine the largest bag of beef jerky you can find at a gas station and then triple the amount the bag contained and that's what the bags of bacon were like.  I had several pieces, along with some ramen noodles.  There was a campfire here as well but I stayed away.  We didn't stay here long.  Now that it was daylight, I was alive and well so we got out and headed on to the next section.

We left Bird Knob on a downhill road that soon had us turn off onto a trail that went up.  It was steep and rocky and again since it was light, we could see exactly where we had to go.  In the darkness of the night, you can't see these sort of things which is sometimes a good thing. But the hill seemed never-ending and I was a slow moving individual going up.  Soon though, we reached a downhill.  This was probably one of the longest downhills of the race.  I had reached a point where going up the hills was slow as could be.  My legs felt dead as if they had no energy to push me.  But as we reached the downhill, mentally I convinced myself to run.  And I mean RUN.  I took off.  Running downhill was a piece of cake.  My legs didn't hurt, so I just let gravity do it's job while I kept myself upright.

There was no break in the downhill.  It wasn't like it was down for a few hundred yards, and then up for a little.  It was just straight down for around 2.5 miles.  As I'm 'blazing' the downhills, I convince myself that the faster I run, the sooner I finish.  I held nothing back.  I seriously felt as if I was running 5-6 minute pace but my Garmin proved me wrong as it showed somewhere around 10:20 pace for a mile.  For once, Jon wasn't pushing me.  In fact, I was pushing him.  Later I found out I was pushing him to his limits and he told me that he thought he was just going to have to let me go and catch up later.  He held on and we made it to the end of the hill.  A short uphill and then we made it down into the Picnic Area aid station.

It was 7:30 in the morning.  I had covered 87.9 miles.  I sat down, and as my amazing pacer offered me breakfast food and many other things, all I could think about was how much I didn't want to eat.  But I had to.  The volunteers brought my drop bag to me and had an Ensure then packed my honey bun into my backpack.  I asked veteran volunteers to explain the last few course sections to me and they did so with great detail.  I gathered myself, grabbed a handful of Reese's Pieces and we set out on our way to the last AS of the race.

88 miles.  In the grand scheme of things, I was so close to finishing the race.  But in the same respect, I was so far away from that finish line.  The next section was truly a mental test that pushed me to the brink of sanity it seemed.  As we left the Picnic Area AS, we had a short downhill section that was easy to run.  Soon enough though, we hit an uphill.  I began to wonder how long this uphill was.  My legs had no energy.  While I could blast the downhills and not have any problems whatsoever, I couldn't go up.  This was unlike anything I'd ever experienced.  I didn't understand it, and I was completely frustrated.  Imagine what a zombie looks like walking in the movies.  That's what I felt like, and that's the pace it seemed like I was moving.  No matter what I did, walking up a hill seemed like a never-ending feat.

Crossing a creek around 9am.  Carefully, as I hadn't gotten wet the entire race!
I made it!

The next few switchbacks, on any other day, would be runnable.  If I were out on a training run, I probably wouldn't consider walking them.  I had no choice at this point.  I was growing angry at my legs.  Why I had no energy to push myself up these hills at a reasonable pace was beyond me.  I was also sleepy, and the fact that we were moving at a snail's pace was causing me to literally fall asleep while I was walking.  But we kept moving, one foot in front of the other.  And if the current mental angst wasn't enough, I was faced with a change in the trail that was almost the straw that broke the camel's back.

The trail had been easily defined and marking was excellent.  But then it was almost as if the trail ended and the course markings lead us up a creek bed.  Like the course designers said, "hey let's make them walk up a creek bed 90 miles into the race....that'll be funny."  Not that getting wet at this point was aggravating.  I didn't care about that.  I'd rather have wet feet for the last 13 miles than the last 70 miles.  It was just another factor that was wasting mental energy.  At this point I was just getting mad.  I tried to stay positive, but I couldn't.  All I wanted was for this section to be over with.  I just wanted to sit down, maybe even close my eyes for a minute or so.  I knew I would finish before the 36 hour cutoff.  So time wasn't a factor.  But this 8.9 mile section just kept going, and going.

We finally reached the end of the uphill section and got to some downhill running.  I was so happy to have a change in terrain.  The downhill miles flew by and we soon came into the Gap Creek AS for the second time.  It looked different this time around compared to the first time I arrived, when it was just after midnight.  I sat down and a volunteer was promptly attending to me.  I didn't care about food.  I told him how I was just so sleepy and he asked if I had any caffeine.  I told him I had been drinking Coke, etc. at the AS's but it didn't seem like it was doing it's job.  He went and grabbed me an espresso flavored GU that had more than the normal amount of caffeine other gels have.  I downed it.  Although I'm not a fan of coffee flavored anything, especially coffee, I forced it down and hoped that it would soon be the pick-me-up I needed.  My drop bag was brought to me and the volunteer examined what was in my pack to see if I could shed some weight.  Socks, headlamp, flashlight, unopened gels, who knows what else, was all still in my pack.  We threw it all in my drop bag and I got myself ready for the final section.  I was soon on my way to the finish line.

Leaving Gap Creek AS, you have to climb Jawbone for the second time.  The first was in the middle of the night and I remember it sucked.  I was not looking forward to it, but I also knew it was my last climb of the race.  It didn't seem as bad this time around in the daylight and soon enough we had reached the top of the climb and the 'pie plate' which we encountered earlier.

The 'pie plate' some 98 miles into the race.  "To the finish!"
After climbing jawbone for the second time, there is one final rocky section about a mile long.  A farewell trail of the Massanutten terrain.  One more reminder of what one has endured for over 100 miles.  Jon and I passed by a gentleman who would soon be finishing his 10th MMT100.  What an amazing feat that is!  We shared a few words, congratulated each other, and then we pressed onward.

We emerged from the woods off the trail and onto a gravel road.  The final four miles or so were on this gravel road which was all slightly downhill.  My feet were bruised and sore.  That was the only real pain I had.  It was just a matter of time before I would be crossing that finish line.  I couldn't believe what I had done.  Jon and I talked while we alternated walking and running.  I apologized to him for all the negativity I spat out of my mouth throughout the night but he was truly understanding and knew exactly where I was coming from.  Only another ultrarunner can relate.  I thanked him for giving up his weekend to accompany through the night to accomplish something I never dreamed existed.

We made one final turn onto another secondary road and walked the final uphill.  It was short but still deserved one of those "seriously, you had to throw in this final hill?" comments.  Once we reached the top we turned onto the trail that I had taken some 33 hours before as I walked from the cabin to the Start line.  Jon asked how far it was and I told him less than a mile.  He stopped me and said he had something to give me.  I didn't know what to expect.  He pulled out a necklace that said "Run 100" on it and said he wanted to give me something for finishing my first 100 miler.  It almost brought me to tears as I realized what I had accomplished and that you only get one first of everything in life.  And this would always be remembered as a keepsake from my first 100 mile race.  I was so grateful.  The fact that he knew this was special really meant a lot to me.  I can't say enough thank you's to him for all he did for me.

Since I hadn't seen my crew since the Camp Roosevelt AS the night before, I had no idea where they were or if they would be at the finish line waiting for me.  I had tried to text Summer throughout the night but sometimes I didn't have signal and sometimes I just forgot.  I would be super disappointed if they weren't there.  So I had Jon run down to the finish line first and make sure they were there before I exited the woods.  As I drew near, I crossed the bridge over a creek and I could see the tent and finish line.  He gave me a thumbs up and I knew all was well.

When you exit the trail, you are lead around a few large trees and you have a straight line maybe 50 yards long to the finish line where everyone is waiting for you.  I could hear my crew yelling for me.  It was one of the strangest feelings I had ever had.  I didn't know what to think.  Did I really just do what I thought I did?  Did I just cover 103.7 miles by foot?  I did.

As I drew nearer to the finish, I could hear one of the race marshals announcing my name and said "you can crack a smile anytime now, Nathan".  And I did.  I high fived my Dad and crossed the finish line in 32 hour, 35 minutes, and 47 seconds.  The race director was there to greet and congratulate me.  I mentioned to him that it was my first 100 and gave him kudos for a heck of a challenging race.

Coming in to finish my first 100 miler
Photo courtesy Tom Toogood

A high five from my Dad

Photo courtesy Bobby Gill

The race director, Kevin Sayers, as I told him it was my first 100.

Summer and I embraced while sharing a couple of tears.  I believe she was more emotional than I was but again, I didn't know what to think.  We both knew however, everything that I had done the previous six months leading up to this.  All of the early mornings I set out to go run for hours.  All of the sleep I gave up on Saturdays.  All of the races I ran in preparation for this.  It was all coming to a close before my eyes.  I am truly blessed to have someone to support me in doing this crazy thing called ultrarunning.  Summer, you are my wife, my partner, and most importantly, my best friend.  Thank you so much for being there for me.

Summer and I at the finish

Then I got to hug my sweet baby Gemma.  She had no idea what I had just done, but I was so thankful that I had made it to the finish alive and well and was able to hold her.  One day we'll look back on these pictures and I'll tell her all about my first 100 mile run.

Gemma and I
My wonderful family
My amazing pacer, Jon and I
Post-race photo

Keepsake from my first 100

And finally, the buckle.
I can't say enough about the way this race was conducted.  From the race director, to the volunteers, to the aid stations, everything was amazing.  The volunteers at each aid station were energetic and positive and willing to do whatever a runner needed to make their day a success.  At many points during the race I swore up and down that if I made it out of the race alive, I would never go back.  It didn't take too long for that feeling to go away after the race.  2014 plans have yet to be made but if I don't make it back to MMT100 then, I'll be back someday.  There's just something about this race, and now I know why so many keep coming back to the Massanutten mountains in the middle of May.