Tuesday, May 09, 2017

A perfect day at Massanutten 100 miler

Two weeks out from my 5th MMT I went for an easy 6 mile run with my buddy, and pacer, Garry. When I got home my ankle blew up. I canceled my last big weekend and cut my mileage down a lot more than planned. I spent two weeks icing my ankle and figuring it will be fine on race day, or I’ll be out of the race by mile 12. 
not out of the race at mile 12 – photo by David Whitney Potts

My goal for the race was to do better than last year. My more specific goals for the race were to get to the Bird Knob lookout by sunset, and to win the Masters division. There was a long list of runners I thought would be competing for that award with the main two being Brad Hinton and Keith Knipling. Brad has crushed me at Bull Run the past two years, and Keith can crush this course like no other.
In order to beat my time from last year and get to Bird Knob before dark I had to do two things this year: Run faster in the first 54 miles, and not miss any turns in the second half. From mile 10 to 34 there are two climbs, and the rest is largely runnable. During my training this year I put more focus on running steady. It paid off as I got to Elizabeth Furnace 23 minutes ahead of last year.

Much like 2014, this year runners were treated to 103.7 miles of wet feet. The field we run across at the start had about a foot of standing water and there was never an extended period of drying off. It rained for about 4 or 5 hours in the morning and the trails were worse than 2014 in some sections from what I remember. I took two falls. Around mile 25 there’s a steep descent that was just a stream of water. I was bouncing around trying to avoid the water and my foot clipped a rock and I went down hard. My knee hit a rock and I got some road (rock) rash on my arm and shoulder. Then at mile 37 I was going down a wide open trail with very little rocks, excited about how well I was feeling when a rock reached up and grabbed my ankle. I tucked and rolled like a stuntman, and hopped up and kept running.
Mile 26 photo by Karsten Brown
For much of the first half of the race I leap frogged with Will Kuper (another runner who crushed me at Bull Run). I would take a big lead on the climbs and rocks, and he would pass and take a big lead on me on the runnable sections. Just before my mile 37 tumble I spotted Brad Hinton ahead of me. When I got to the aid station I changed socks, and chased Will to the next AS. We repeated our routine up Veach. I took the lead on the climb, he gapped me when we got to the top.

Indian Grave - photo Annie Gie
As I got into Indian Grave at mile 50, I finally caught up to Brad. It was a huge motivation for me, and I was able to also catch Will on the road to Habron. On the road I also caught up to my buddy Pat who was struggling. I encouraged him to run with me and he finished the section strong (and went on to an awesome 6 hour PR finish of 23:20).
Brad was in and out of Habron quicker than me, and I passed him on the big climb. It was the last runner I’d see on the trail for the rest of the day. At this point in the race I was 43 minutes ahead of last year. Looking at how well I ran the back half of the race last year I thought I’d be able to make up not much more than the 20 minutes of extra running I did last year. Apparently I underestimated myself. When I left Habron I put on my pack. About 20 minutes into the climb I went to eat a gel. There were none in my top left pocket, none in my top right pocket. I reached around to the sides and found one. I planned on eating three in this section and started to let myself get mad about not having more and in my head I was rationing this one gel as if I was stranded on a deserted island. After about 5 minutes I took the pack off to look in the back pocket for more. None back there either, but as I was putting it back on my hand touched  a pocket on my shoulder I forgot about. Never have I been so happy about 200 calories.
Jess Gockley’s feet on that trail later that night
 At this point in the race I had no idea of what place I was in, or if there might be someone in my age group ahead of me. I just knew I was running well, and if I kept it up I could get to Bird Knob before dark. Coming into Camp Roosevelt I was running really strong and spotted Garry out on the trail. Just about the same spot I tried to tell him I wanted to quit two years ago. This year I was feeling better than ever. A quick aid station and I was off to the worst section of trail on the course. It’s a mess on a normal year, and it’s a foot deep stream on wet years.

 I didn’t focus on trying to beat my best time here. I just went at it strong, and kept taking in calories while my stomach was still ok. In the end I missed my best time on this section by one minute. Maybe the final splash in the creek slowed me down. 

Along with Garry, Marsha was down for the second half to help Kym crew, and Brandon came down to also pace. I told them I didn’t think I’d need a pacer until mile 78, but they had Brandon jump in with me here. It was a good idea. I wasn’t struggling, but having him with me helped lift my spirits more and kept me moving well. I focused on not missing the turn up Jawbone this year, and I’m not sure how I missed it last year. It rained off and on in this section but it cleared up for a beautiful view of the mountains as we ran down the road to the Visitor Center aid station. It was 7:19pm, and after some soup I left for the huge climb. I told Brandon about my goal to get to the lookout and he said he’d give me 1 minute to enjoy it before we got moving. I took it all in in about 20 seconds. We got to the Bird Knob Aid Station before needing our headlamps. I remember seeing a picture of Brian Rusiecki coming into Bird Knob in the daylight a few years ago and I was amazed. Now I was doing the same. The run from Bird Knob to Picnic is probably my least favorite on the course. It seems like 4 miles of the same thing over and over. Not difficult trail, but all running, and mostly wet. It gets in my head that I’m not moving fast enough and constantly look behind me as if someone is catching me. In this section we saw the same Whippoorwill on the trail as last year. It didn’t fly off the trail until I almost stepped on it. It did that 3 times again. Bizarre.

We heard cheers from Picnic AS a few minutes out. Great news. Not only because we were finally there, but the cheers meant I caught someone. Nick Pedatella had just gotten to the Aid Station when we got there. I had some more soup and quickly got out of there and Garry joined me to the finish. When we crossed the 211 highway I started running the climb. I ran much of that hill last year and as I ran I tried to get myself to run the entire fire road until we turned off to the trail. I made it and cut a few more minutes off my time with that push. We power hiked  the long climb, including this awesome trail:

except picture hiking that in the dark- photo Ted Bielawa
 After the 4 mile climb, the downhill here always hurts my quads. It wasn’t as bad this year and I cut more time off. We ran the road to Gap 2, and with a 15 minute improvement it was my best improvement of the day (so far). We made quick work of the last Aid Station. I was sad to hear a fellow Pacer Laura Mooney was still at Gap 1 and they were trying to get her to go back out, but it was also nice to see the familiar faces of her crew. We made a strong push over the last few brutal miles of trail and popped out on the road. At this point last year I got passed and there was no chance I was letting that happen this year. Garry took charge and pulled me along to a ridiculously fast finish. According to my watch my last full mile was an 8:38. I finished in 21:05:33.

I cut 43 minutes off the first 54 miles, and 66 minutes off the second half that I didn’t think I could improve on. I had a great day alone, but there’s zero chance I finish anywhere near where I did without the amazing help of Marsha, Brandon, and Garry. And there’s zero chance I even run the race if not for the amazing support of Kym. I ran more training miles than ever before this year, and I can only do it because she’s a supermom and a superwife. She got me in and out of every aid station in seconds (except when I took about a half hour to change my shoes in the above video). I can’t do any better than this, so why ever do it again? Just like I said last year. 
Brandon, Garry, Marsha, Me, Kym
Kym and I. Masters champs

strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/976089321

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