At 3 a.m. last Sunday morning, I was finally ready to leave the Edinburg Gap aid station after an extended stay. Upon checking out with Anstr, he said, "You look like shit, John." OK, maybe I wasnít expecting "May the wind be at your back," "May the ground rise to meet your feet," or any other type of hearty fare-thee-well, but something a tad more positive would have been more what I had in mind. I wasnít sure this was the kind of exhortation that was going to propel me to the finish line in the, say, next 10-12 hours (if I was lucky). But Iím getting ahead of myself here.
I believe that every writer should tell/warn the reader about the length of the report theyíre about to read. I learned this last year when I started reading Russ Evansí report from last yearís race. I had read about a page on the web and decided I would just print it out. I hit the print button, waited a bit and walked out to the printer. The printer was smoking, and lights were flashing "LOAD LETTER TRAY" despite a large sheaf of papers already in the out tray. This report will be shorter. I studied Russí report to the point of making notes in the margins. I did a lot of what he did, so I wonít repeat that. If youíre thinking about MMT100, you should read his report even though the course has changed.
I donít know about you, but sometimes I get a little tired of being asked why I run ultras (or marathons for that matter). No matter what I say, people usually say Iím crazy. But I think we should be able to articulate for ourselves why we do this. Iím not going to try to explain why I run ultras; I will try to explain why I ran this race.
Last month I was riding the T in Boston just after the marathon, when someone across the aisle asked the runner next to me why he ran the Boston marathon. He said, "If youíre a runner, this is it." The person seemed to be satisfied with the answer. I wasnít. I felt like blurting out: "This is IT? This is it WHAT? Letís not get mystical here. Answer the damn question." I thought he could have done a better job. I ran it because I wanted to say I ran the Boston marathon when I was 50 years old. Maybe not much of a reason, but at least it was understandable. Anyway: why MMT 100? Because it was tough? Nope. Because I was 50? Nope. Because if youíre an ultrarunner this is it? Nope. You see, I have run and trained with people at MMT who have run the MMT100. Simply, I wanted to have the shared experience with those people (and others) of running the MMT100. In my first VHTRC training run a little over a year ago, only one of us had run the MMT100 (Bill Sublett); two did last May (Russ and Bill Van Antwerp), my turn this year, and Mike Gholsonís turn is next year. And there are others, too, that I have met since then Ė like Gary "Tanya" Knipling (Iíll explain this moniker later). Not too mention my email mentor from last year, Deb Reno, who said "letís see how you feel at mile 95." Now I know. And may the curse be with all of you.
Several things are worth mentioning: training, setting goals, pacer, and crew / drop bags.
An Achilles injury put me behind the 8-ball a little bit this year. I started running again in mid-February (2 miles initially) but was able to get in the HAT Run, BRR50, a marathon, and 3 training runs at MMT. I had done more runs last year by this time and seemed to be a little faster a year ago, but I thought what I had done was sufficient.
I studied the split times for the past 2 years for several runners and made adjustments for the weather from last year and the changes in the course for this year to arrive at some achievable goals (at least I thought so). My first goal was to finish; if all went well, 30 hours; and a slight possibility I could do it in 29 hours. I had time goals for each aid station since I knew the course pretty well. At the Vermont 100 last summer, my goal for the last 32 miles was "whenever." I tended to lose my focus with that nebulous goal, so this time I had more definite goals for each aid station. To spare you the suspense, I met the first goal Ė I finished (32:24). I might have been close to the other two had not the Running God intervened about 7 p.m. Saturday evening.
I wasnít going to have a pacer, but that changed 2 days before the race. Russ mentioned that Mike Gholson was interested in pacing somebody, so I called Mike and he agreed. I met Mike on my first VHTRC training run; those of you whoíve read my account of that run will remember Mike. Note the shears in the photoóalso used on those special occasions when he thinks his runner is slacking off. Mike paced Russ last year who had a phenomenal 27:32 finish in brutal conditions. After being Russís pacer and my pacer, Mike can now say he has seen the good, the bad, and (if you believe Anstr), the ugly. The plan was to have Mike join me at 211 East and go to the finish. We did neither of those.
I have to admit that this part went very well. I tried to run consistently and not overdo it. I was pretty close to my time goals; in fact, I was ahead of schedule for a 29 hour finish as much as 30 minutes at times, but this varied throughout the day (I was still on schedule at Moreland Gap). I tried to focus on running according to my plan even though people would pass me. I would not be tempted to speed up.
As it turned out, I ran close to or with Gary "Tanya" Knipling a large part of the day. I didnít really meet Gary until the BRR50 where we ran together for awhile. We both took off work one day a couple weeks before the race and ran out at MMT. It was a most enjoyable dayóperfect weather. We started at the bottom of Habron Gap and went to the top where I turned around and came back to my vanóGary continued on to the Stephens trail, and we would meet at Camp Roosevelt. I drove north to the purple trail to check out the road and then drove to Camp Roosevelt and ran up the Stephens Trail. I had not gone far when Gary came down. We returned to the van, and I headed up Duncan Hollow; Gary drove the van to Gap Creek and would run from there. I had just made the turn onto the blue trail when he came down the mountain. We both climbed back to the top and ran down the Scothorn trail to the road and back to the van. From there we went up Jawbone Gap and down to Moreland Gap and then back to the van. The van shuttling allowed each of us to do what we wanted to do that day.
Some of you may not know Gary, but he is a reserved, dour-looking individual. Check out his picture at the finish of last yearís MMT100 and this yearís BRR50 to see what I mean. It took a while to get him to open up on that training run, but, as it turns out, he is quite an interesting fellow. I, for one, did not know that he once served two years in the Tennessee state penitentiary for forgery. Anyway, this year Gary was on a quest: to be the first senior. And nothing would stop him. Let me tell you some of the things I had to endure during the first part of the MMT100 raceóthe so-called "tricks of the trail." We had run together going up to Shawl Gap early in the morning, but he had gone ahead after that. I caught him going up Habron Gap. When he realized I was behind him, he started kicking big, loose rocks down the trail. I managed to jump over them and make it to the top; we ran together along the ridge for awhile. At one point, he would grab a branch, hold it for awhile, and then release it so it would smack me in the face. He would always say these things were inadvertent. Some things are hard to explain away, however. Gary sometimes likes to run carrying a branch. Once I tried to pass him, saying, "Gary, mind if I squeeze by here?" Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this branch coming at my knee and I moved it just in time, taking the blow on my shin. It was just a small gash. He said the branch slipped. Tanya Harding would have been proud of that maneuver.
We actually collided once. We were coming off Kerns Mountain, and Gary stopped at the unmanned water station at the end of that trail. I decided even before the race that I would not stop there, so I went behind him to continue running down the road to the Visitors Center. Seeing this, Gary took a step backwards bumping into me, and I skidded down the 3-foot slope there. "Gee, John, I thought you were going to stop for water." He finally caught up to me on the last little straightaway into the Visitors Center. I told him this was a no-passing zone; he said it wasnít marked. Nevertheless, we ran into the Visitors Center together.
We also left the Visitors Center together and thatís when Russ took our picture (see first page). We both forced a smile as Russ took the picture. I made it up Bird Knob and down to 211 East just before Gary. I ran into 211 East with Deb Reno. I had run with her a couple times earlier in the day and so had Gary. She obviously is a better runner than we were, as she would later prove. She is an excellent downhill runner whereas Iím a pathetic downhill runner. Hereís proof: earlier, she, Gary, and I made the climb up Gap Creek and then headed down to the aid station. By the time I got to the aid station, she had already left. I know what youíre thinking: "Wow, she eats fast." No, you missed the point, which isóI need to learn how to run downhill.
Deb and I left 211 East at the same time with Gary just behind us. In fact, he was running slowly and passed us until I yelled out: "Gary, did you forget you were on a hill?" So he stopped and walked with us. Ahead of us was the dreaded Waterfall Mt. Up until that time, I was feeling great. I came down the other side a different person. Sometimes when things get difficult in a training run or a race, I imagine that Iím in a simulator and that the operators of the simulator are testing me to see how Iíd react. That way I can be detached from whatís going on and be a little more focused on how to get through or solve the difficult part. Weíre going to see how the rest of the race went for me through the two guys that were operating the simulator that day: Earl and Jim. If you would like to imagine who these people might be, you might think that Earl bears somewhat of a resemblance to Ed Demoney, and Jim bears somewhat of a resemblance to Joe Clapper. My thoughts are in brackets. Letís pick up the action at Waterfall Mt.
Earl: Jimbo, howís 26 doing?
Jim: Doing great and coming down Waterfall Mt.
Earl: Well, weíve got to stop that. Hit the queasiness button, level 5; heíll not quite feel like throwing up; heíll just be miserable. Thatíll slow him down.
26: [This is something new to me. Iíve never been queasy during a run before. I ran Laurel Highlands last year in 90 degree heat and didnít get queasy until after I stopped running. Maybe it will go away.]
Jim: He made it to Scothorn Gap; do you want me to ease off the queasiness setting or crank it up?
Earl: Neither. Letís give him false hope that this will go away. I want to drag this out.
Earl: Where is he now?
Jim: His pacer met him at Scothorn Gap. Still queasy but not doing too bad; heís over Jawbone Gap and headed down to Moreland Gap on that rocky section.
Earl: OK. Make him stub his big toe. Make it a good one. I want the nail to separate from the nailbed. And get a blister going on the ball of his left foot.
Jim: THUNK! Done.
26: [Damn. This happened at the HAT run a year ago and that nail was almost grown back. Iíll have to tape it down because it works like a car hood. Itíll fall off in a week or so.]
Earl: Whatís 26 doing now?
Jim: He made it to Moreland Gap and is putting blister block on the ball of his foot, and he taped down the nail. Looks like heís underway again. Can I turn up the queasiness setting?
Earl: No, let him get up Short Mt. first.
Jim: 26 is about an hour from Edinburg Gap. Please, please can I turn up the queasiness setting?
Jim: How far?
Earl: Max Ė 10. But donít make him throw up. And while youíre at it, letís start some serious groin chafing. Letís not waste time with this one Ė go to 10 now. I want it to feel like heís being flayed alive.
Jim: Hey, this is fun!
Earl: Where is 26 now?
Jim: Heís sitting behind his van in a beach chair drinking Ensure and eating some soup. Heís not doing very good.
Earl: I think weíve got him where we want him now. Drop the temperature 10 degrees. I want to see him shake.
Jim: Done. Hey, that worked pretty fast.
Earl: Howís he taking it?
Jim: I think heís had it. Heís getting in the van.
Earl: Alright! Give me five, Jimbo.
Well, there you have it. Deb Reno once wrote that running a hundred is really pain management. That is not quite correct. Running a hundred is misery management of which pain is a subset. When I got in the van that night, I was pretty miserable. Surprisingly, I was also pretty focused. Gone were any thoughts of time goals. Instead, all my energy was directed toward figuring out how to get going again and then get to the finish line. My first concern was my stomach. Mike Gholson realized how bad I was feeling and told me to take as much time as I needed. I drank ginger ale and had some soup. After a while, I felt like I could walk again. But I wouldnít be able to go anywhere until I solved the chafing problem. I was wearing lycra shorts underneath running shorts. The lycra shorts had worked in a training run up to 9 hours, but here we were at 22 hours. Vaseline would not solve this problem. The lycra shorts had to go. The running shorts would also chafe, so I cut the elastic bands that go around the legs of the liner. The liner would hang loose and hopefully not rub. I wore nylon trail pants over these shorts since I knew I would be walking and it was cold. Finally, I was ready to venture forth.
Jim: Hey, Earl, heís getting out of the van. Whatíll we do?
Earl: Nothing. Heís still queasy. Let him go. Letís see how he does over the next 10-12 hours. Heíll have to check out of the aid station, so get Anstr on the horn to tell him he looks like shit. Letís add insult to injury.
And thatís where we started this report.
26: Hey, Anstr, Iím ready to go. Finally.
Anstr: You look like shit, John.
26: I feel worse.
Anstr: Youíve been here, letís seeÖ
26: About 2 hours.
Anstr: No, itís 2:53 now, and you got here atÖ
26: Do we have to be so precise?
26: Are you going to charge me rent?
Mike and I walked to Woodstock even though the sun came up in the meantime. I wasnít ready to run. I realized that Mike had gotten more than he bargained for. The plan was to go to the finish and then weíd have to drive him back to his car at the Visitors Center. Ned had picked him up there to take him to 211 East. But I got to 211 East before 6, so Mike rode with Ned to Scothorn Gap. Mike was disappointed he didnít get to do Waterfall Mt. Looking at an early afternoon finish, I told Mike that Ned should take him back to the Visitors Center now. Not only was it best for him at this time, it was best for Ned who would have an even longer drive if we continued north to any of the other aid stations. Besides, his wife would be expecting him. And, after all, it was Mothers Day. He was convinced. He and Ned left, and I walked to Powellís Fort. After that aid station, I ran some on the road and then the long downhill into Elizabeth Furnace.
After filling up my Camelbak and drinking a can of Ensure in the parking lot at Elizabeth Furnace, I walked into the aid station and sat down. I was wondering how fast I should try to do this last section when Tommy Trask (I think it was him) came over and asked how I was doing. I told him I had been queasy during the night for a long time. He asked how long it would take me to get to the finish. I said I was thinking about an hour and a half. He said maybe two hours. I just nodded, got up and thanked him for the use of the bench. Since the Shawl Gap climb is my favorite part of the course, I decided I would just take my time and enjoy the scenery. I knew I would finish and 15 or 30 minutes would make no difference at this point. I ran from the top of the gap to the finish. As I ran across the grassy field at the finish, I turned and looked back at the mountain and asked myself who had won: me or the mountain? I decided it was a draw.
When I have a tough run, I call it an educational run. This was no exception. In hindsight, I believe I didnít take enough salt during the day. I took SUCCEED every hour which is what Iíve done in the past. It didnít seem hot enough to take it more often that that (which I had done at Laurel Highlands). Since I had brought sandwiches to eat during this run, I didnít eat potatoes with salt at the aid stations which is what I usually do. Potatoes are not only a source of carbs, they are also a salt delivery system. I also should have had more soup, starting at the Visitors Center at least. Finally, I should have carried crystallized ginger in the event I got queasy. Iíve used this after a run before but never had occasion to use it during a run. As I write this, it all seems so obvious what I should have done. But, hey, as far as running 100s, this is still my rookie seasonóI can make mistakes, and they can be doozies.
I donít think I would have finished without having Ned as a crew, especially at Edinburg Gap. People who are running the MMT100 for the first time, especially if itís their first 100, should seriously consider having a crew. I feel bad for Mike Gholson because he didnít get the training he was looking for (heís doing Western States in June). Deb, who unwittingly planted the seed last year for me to run this race, went on to have a great race in under 28 hours. I last talked to "Tanya" Knipling during the night at the top of Jawbone Gap. I let him go by me on the way down because he, too, is a better downhill runner than me. He got his second silver buckle, and he deserved it. As for Earl and Jim: thanks for making things so miserable for me; it makes the finish that more meaningful.