Over the past year I have had the question lobbed at me from family and friends of all circles. I even ask myself that question usually around mile 30 during a run. Why am I doing this to myself? So many runners I meet on the trial, at races, or on longer hikes are just ordinary people with an extraordinary drive, passion, and commitment. Very few runners are actually trying to win a race, or break a record, but rather they are seeking the incredible personal accomplishment of finishing. I have yet to finish a 100 miles.
The formal definition of an ultramarathon is any race on an open course that exceeds 26 miles, 385 yards, the official distance of a marathon. Most ultras fall in the range of 31 to 100 miles, but some are considerably longer than that.
Massanutten is known to be one of the toughest on the east coast. The total gain is more than 19,500 feet (I only climbed 16,700). To put that into prospective for my sedentary friends, that’s like climbing Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Western hemisphere) in one day. It takes anywhere from 17-22 days to climb Aconcagua as a fit mountaineer. If anyone is interested in that, let me know, as I plan on climbing it one day!
The run started at 5:00am on Saturday in the dark. 5 or so miles into the run the sun came up while on top of Buzzard Rock. Fast forward another 50 miles I was on my way back from Bird Knob (aid station #9 - 53.1) and the sun was coming down. With a headlamp illuminating the trail, I began running downhill. At this point my body is fatigued and tired, but my confidence and motivation was high. After reaching the hwy 211 aid station the second time for the day (aid station #10 - mile 58.2) I decided to change my running shoes. I took 2 Advil, ate 3 turkey sandwiches, 2 handfuls of cheddar cheese potato chips (they were so good!) and some boiled potatoes with salt. I put on a new pair of socks, re-tapped areas of concern on my feet, and I was out of the aid station within 11 min. I was on my way to Gap Creek (aid station #11 - mile 64.9) for the next 6.8 miles.
Alone in the dark with a headlamp ascending, I found it impossible to avoid the muddy sections of the trail. My fresh pair of shoes were soaked in mud and my feet were wet again. I made it to Gap Creek at 11:56pm. I ate some more food, took 2 Advil, and refilled my water. It was 2.8 mile to Moreland Gap (aid station #12 - mile 67.7). This is one of the shorter sections, but still very muddy. I remember stomping in mud half way up my shins above my gaiters. This is where I had hot chicken quesadillas! The next section was a long 8.2 miles to Edinburg Gap.
This is the infamous Short Mountain that everyone had talked about. It is a very rocky tail, and some sections with no trail but large boulders to skip on. This would normally be something I would enjoy doing, but it was 1:40am when I left Moreland Gap. I was tired, had just run 67.7 miles, very sleepy, and alone in the dark, cold, windy Short Mountain. It rained on and off. My eyes would shut for a few seconds as I briskly walked on the trail. I began to see weird objects that I knew could not be real, like a basket of fruit on a boulder in the distance. As I got closer I could see that it was just another boulder. This is about the time my left foot twisted between two rocks. It wasn’t a slight roll of the ankle, but a nasty twist that I knew would ultimately results in some serious pain soon to come. I knew that if I kept moving I could keep the ankle from swelling immediately and possibly finish the race. My pace had slowed considerably. Soon I was passed by 4 runners, then a group of 2. I realized that having someone with me in the middle of the night would have been a good idea, and possibly prevented the sloppy form of running which eventually caused the injury. I kept shuffling where I could and walking some sections. Finally I started descending; I thought I was close to the next aid station. A half a mile of downhill lead to some more climbing. Was my mind playing tricks on my again? I was very sleepy, so I decided to lay down and take a fast nap. 10 min later headlamps flashed into my face and I got up again and kept moving. I did this another two times, took two quick naps, then got back up and kept moving. The sun began to come up and day light broke at around 5:20am. This did give me some energy, but not enough to overcome the pain of a throbbing ankle. I took another nap. Finally, I hobbled over to the Edinburg Gap aid station (#13 - mile 75.9) and decided to drop out of the race. I reached Edinburg Gap at 6:06am, and I had been running for the past 25:06. The cutoff time to complete the total run is 36 hours. According to my heart rate monitor, I burned 16,678 calories.
There will be many more races to come, and I am already planning my next 100 mile run. I am very pleased with 75.9 miles, and will have my day with a 100. I have never seen a course that is so well marked. I managed to stay on the trail while sleep walking. The aid stations were well stocked with food, and pain killers. I want to thank DC a friend that was my support crew, whom without would have made this run much harder. I also want to thank all the volunteers for supporting this run and making it a great event.
Photo by: Anstr Davidson