Two Virginias: Another MMT Training Run

By John Dodds

John and Gary Finish the RingIt is that time of year when a lot of people across the United States are focused on the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100-Mile Run. Many a runner is asking questions like these, and my answers follow: Have I done all the training to get ready for this? No. Will I do as well as I had hoped? Probably not. Will some calamity befall me? Very likely. Is the trek across Short Mt. as bad as they say? No, it's worse. Will Anstr encourage me to finish if I feel like dropping at Edinburg Gap? Dream on. Will Stan and Margie let me drop at their aid station if I can go no further? No, you will have to leave and then die 20 yards out on the trail toward the next aid station. No one - and I mean no one - will drop at their aid station. Are the rocks all that bad? That's a stupid question. Is the course well marked? Yes. Will it be my fault if I get lost? No, this is like any other 100 I have run - it is always the RD's fault. Should I read Russ Evans' race report beforehand? Definitely, it is a veritable treasure of information. Do I have enough time to read it before race day? No. It is 18 pages, single spaced, and you need to start reading it about 2 months before the race. I'm told the Cliff notes will be out next year. Should I just stay home? Most assuredly not. Will I be glad I did it after I finish? OK, let's assume you do finish - probably in about 2-3 years as you look back, you'll be glad you did it.

Hopefully, you have finished all your training and are just relaxing before the race. As you are now in this subdued period (shall we call it the calm before the storm?), I thought you'd be interested in a recent training run two well-known VHTRCers recently completed at MMT. That would be me and the lesser known, quiet and reserved Gary Knipling. Gary is running MMT this year again, and he's running well. He earned silver buckles in his last two entries. He called me up not too long ago and asked if I wanted to take off from work and run at MMT. I've done training runs with Gary the past couple years before MMT, and I'm sure he wouldn't be as well trained if it weren't for me. Same thing goes for the race. I don't see how Gary is going to do well this year without me to chase around all day and night.

Before I get started, I wanted to ask if you've ever wondered what people were up to by looking at what they had in their shopping carts? I was thinking that when I checked out at Safeway the day before our training run. Here's all I had in my cart: 8 big bottles of grape Gatorade, 2 boxes of vanilla wafers, 2 cans of Pringles, and a tube of PreparationH. It is at times like this when I'm somewhat reluctant to call myself as an athlete.

Two Virginias. Some of you may know that West Virginia was once part of Virginia. I'm not talking about that when I say two Virginias. I'm talking about northern Virginia and the real Virginia. Let me give you an example. Gary and I met at Gainesville, and he drove the rest of the way to MMT. While traveling 71 MPH in a 55 MPH zone on Route 211, we got pulled over by the Rappahannock County sheriff. He was very pleasant until Gary showed him his registration from Fairfax County. As he read it, he said "They sure make things complicated in Fairfax County," pronouncing Fairfax County in a disgusting tone. It didn't help that Gary's registration was outdated. The officer said he could write Gary up for that as well, but he would only do so for speeding. Gary asked him what the fine would be, but the officer said he wasn't allowed to say because they always get it wrong. When the officer went back to write down the license plate number, I asked Gary if he had his big Virginia Tech decal on the back. No, he said, he didn't put it back on after washing his car. Big mistake. Here's another mistake. When the officer first came up, he looked in the back of Gary's car and saw all our stuff. He asked, "You boys going camping?" Gary, sitting there in his floral running shorts, said, "No, we're going running." Sometimes, there are times when it's ok to tell a little white lie, and this was one of those times. As we drove away, we tried to figure out if we had any defense. Since Gary was truly speeding, we had some difficulty in this regard. However, I did point out that there were two cars in front of us traveling the same speed and that we should only have to pay one third of the fine. But we figured the judge wouldn't buy that excuse. While upset at the ticket, Gary was more upset that we had gotten stopped by the Rappahannock County sheriff rather than the Virginia State Police. I think he felt that stopping speeders on Virginia's highways is more appropriate for state troopers while the sheriff's department should be looking out for other criminals, like cattle rustlers.

Luray. We passed by the thriving metropolis of Luray which reminded us to call Steve Pero to make arrangements for our BRR50 team. Steve and Deb are thinking about moving to Virginia in the next 10-20 years and are considering Luray. Deb answered the phone, and I told Gary to tell her that we were passing the super Wal-Mart at that moment. She asked us to fill out job applications for Steve and her. Gary said he was going to write their names and numbers on one of the stalls in the men's room. That Gary, he sure has a sense of humor.

The course. We decided we wanted a tough run and a long run, but it didn't all have to be on the MMT100 course. Here's what we did: started at Gap Creek, went up to Jawbone Gap, ran south on Kern's Mt., then to the Visitors Center, and then up Bird Knob. We ran down the road to Pitt Spring and then on to Catherine's Furnace. We came up the purple trail and then back on the MMT100 course to 211 East. We decided not to exercise the Waterfall Mt. option (although we had put out aid on Crisman Hollow road in case we had done so) and continued up to the Scothorn Gap trail. Rather than going down that trail as in MMT, we continued straight to the Gap Creek trail and then took that down back to the car.

As we drove in to Gap Creek in the morning, we dropped aid at 211 East, the Visitors Center, and Waterfall Mt. As a word of warning, the longest interval is between the Visitors Center and 211 East. It took as about 5 hours, and we really didn't have enough water. I carried 3 water bottles and Gary had 2. I had left a water bottle at the junction of the Wildflower Trail and the MMT trail and that really helped when we came down off of Bird Knob on our way back. Gary and I did this course last year, but I had planted aid at Catherine's Furnace earlier. Another possibility is to take water from Pitt Spring.

Wild things. Let me quote from Russ' MMT100 report from several years ago: "Gary is one ultrarunner who always seems to have a smile on his face. He is also extremely knowledgeable about the local wildlife and plants. It is always great to talk with him while running because he is so cheerful, plus you get a good education about the flora and fauna you are passing along the trail." Our training run was no different. Before we began, Gary said our goal was to see 10 different types of wildflowers that day. We actually saw more than that. I would usually let Gary spot the flowers first so as not to deflate his ego. We would be running along, and he would stop, point down and say, "What do you see?" And I'd say, "The ground." Then he'd point out some tiny flower and make up some strange name for it. One of the flowers we saw was the trailing arbutus, otherwise known as the mayflower. He said it was the state flower of Massachusetts. He also made it a point to say that Steve Pero didn't know this when Gary pointed out the flower to him some time ago.

As we were running down the road from Pitt Spring and just before we were to turn left towards Catherine Furnace, I told Gary I wanted to walk out onto the small bridge over the creek and look at where the two creeks come together. As we scooped water over our heads, Gary spotted a hepatica flower. Then a whole bunch of them. For quite a while, we were roaming up and down the bank, saying, "Ohhhh, look at this one" or "Look at this bunch." There were actually three different color variations. This was just the pickup we needed at this point in the run. It was finally time to go and we started off again, holding hands, skipping lightly down the road toward Catherine's Furnace, and singing "The Sound of Music." Gary saw a lone hepatica a week later during the BRR50 and would write in his BRR50 wildflower report that it was "the star of the day" for him.

Then came the dreaded purple trail. We weren't too far along, when Gary stopped and pointed to the right and said, "What do you see?" And I said, "Trees." No, the bird, he said. He was pointing at some bird, and after a couple minutes I finally saw it. "That's a Louisiana water thrush," he said. "Well, of course," I thought to myself, "I certainly wouldn't expect to see a Virginia water thrush here in Virginia. It just has to be a Louisiana water thrush." But I pretended to pay attention about what Gary was saying as he explained how it moved on the branch, the sound it made, and on and on.

We stopped at the overlook when we got back to Bird Knob. Gary sat down, and I stood behind him and asked him where Big Schloss was across the valley. Just at that time a buzzard was flying in front of us from left to right and Gary said watch the buzzard. He said when the buzzard's in line with his finger (as Gary was pointing across the valley), then that's Big Schloss. The buzzard then flew by and disappeared behind some trees to the right. I pretended that I missed it and asked Gary if he could show me that again. Well, wouldn't you know it, but that damn buzzard came out from behind the trees flying from right to left, and Gary pointed again. After it flew by, Gary yelled at the buzzard, "Okay, you're done for the day. You can go home now." Gary turned and looked at me with a grin on his face that was as wide as the Shenandoah Valley. I have to admit that this little episode was priceless.

The rest of the run was fairly uneventful, and we finished the day with the customary bath in Gap Creek.

Final thoughts. (1) It's been 3 years now since I first talked on the phone to a stranger named Russ Evans who was telling me about an upcoming VHTRC training run. He described MMT as a rocky, kick-butt trail. I have been out there many times since then and after two MMT100s, I can give you a more accurate description: it can rip you a new asshole. Sorry about the indiscretion there, but truth is truth. (2) There are so many ways to experience MMT. You can be a runner, pacer, crew, volunteer or just come out and drink beer at the aid stations. (3) No matter what capacity you're in that day, it will be an unforgettable experience. Believe me on this one because I've tried-unsuccessfully-to forget a few things. (4) Finally, it's nice to see someone last year finish in the top 5 and who is now wearing the exquisite finisher's silver buckle on a belt that that someone still owes you the money for.

Happy Trails!

John Dodds and Gary Knipling Finish the Massanutten Trail

Virginia Happy Trails Running Club
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