Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run

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The Second Time Around

Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile
May 13-14, 2006

by Ed Cacciapaglia

Some people ask “Why would you ever run 100 miles?” One possible answer: “Because I can.” After having such a good time last year at the MMT 100, I decided to try it again. This year was different, since I didn’t have the excitement of running my first 100 miler, but there was still plenty of anticipation leading up to race day(s). Then there was the “challenge” I heard at mile 47 last year, when I temporarily passed Randy Dietz. Randy said “you’re in over your head, Ed.” I knew I had to come back this year and see about that.

Photo of Ed at Habron
Ed at Habron Gap Aid Station. Photo: Desiree Williams

The Cardinal Fire

Due to a major forest fire along the southeastern section of the Massanutten Trail, the course had to be significantly altered this year. We could not go through Duncan Hollow and Peach Orchard Gap. The Scothorn Gap section was closed off. The Gap Creek Aid Station site was unavailable. So we got to run more road this year and had the pleasure of traversing Kern Mountain both ways and going through the new Picnic Area Aid Station not once or twice, but three times.

Training and Preparation

This year I didn’t get as many training runs on the MMT course in the four months preceding the race, but I did the Ring (71 mile Massanutten Orange Trail) in October and did a couple other training runs on the course. Besides, I already knew the course from last year. I used the Bull Run Run 50 Mile, again, as my long run before MMT. Two weeks before MMT, I checked out the new finishing hill up Shawl Gap, so I knew what to expect. My overall preparation went well.

I reviewed Randy Dietz’s stats from last year and those of several other finishers, including my own. I decided that I needed to go slightly slower at the start. I set goal times for the various aid stations and revised them to reflect the new fire course.

I ditched last year’s Montrail Hardrocks and the Adidas Supernova Trail Shoes in favor of a pair of Vasque Velocity Trail Shoes. The Velocitys proved to be an excellent choice both at Bull Run and at MMT. The fore foot area is wider than most trail shoes and the toe piece on the front of the shoes protected me from the many rocks I kicked at the MMT. The shoes handled the mud at Bull Run well. I recommend them for anyone who has a wide forefoot area. My only complaint is they are porous, so I need to buy a pair of gators before the next big run. One other purchase that proved valuable was a new flashlight with 5 LED lights and a magnifier.

Pre-Race

At 3:45 Saturday morning I awoke and got my race uniform ready. I had taken care of the drop bags and pinned my number onto my hat the day before, so all I needed to do was put on running clothes, nipple bandages and Bodyglide on my toes, waist, and under arms. I wore two pairs of socks, the inside socks were Injinji toe socks and outside socks were thin single layer wicking socks. I drank some water and headed up to the ranch checking in with the Grim Sweeper, Bill Van Animal before milling around and meeting with some of the other runners.

Start Slowly

At 4:58 I went outside, apparently missing the “blessing”. I did my own one minute of quiet reflection. Next thing I knew, we were off, running through the grass onto the road for the first 2.4 miles. I moved comfortably and purposefully, knowing that I was in no hurry to be in the first group going up the mountain. I carried two water bottles, one in a belt pack and one handheld, and my new flashlight. I only turned it on intermittently, as the road was smooth enough and there was enough light from the sky and flashlights of other runners. The dawn air was comfortably cool and the sky got lighter as we ascended the Buzzards Trail. On top of the ridge I saw a fallen Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, who had twisted his ankle and later had to drop because of his injury. By the time I got to Shawl Gap Aid Station, the clock read 6:53, 12 minutes slower than last year. That was good.

Photo of Ed at Shawl Gap
Ed approaching the Shawl Gap Aid Station. Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

At Shawl Gap Aid Station, I gave Helen my flash light, refilled my two water bottles and headed toward the Veach Gap Aid Station, arriving there 33 minutes later. I grabbed a pancake and a piece of bacon and began the climb up the Tuscarora Trail towards the Orange Trail and Milford Gap. I climbed comfortably, passing David Snipes and a couple others on the climb. After the Milford Gap Aid Station, I caught up with Susan Baehre and ran along with her until we took a left on the Indian Grave Ridge Trail. Susan seemed to be enjoying the run and went on to finish in a very respectable 27 hours 31 minutes. On the Indian Grave Ridge Trail, I left Susan behind and passed David Yeakel and a couple of others on the way down the mountain. David Harper from Florida, caught me on the downhill and we ran together down the trail and on the road for a while until I slowed down to take in some nutrition. As we approached the Habron Gap Aid Station, Susan Baehre caught up to me as I was taking it easy on the road section. At Habron, I took off my shoes and cleaned the dirt out of them. My feet were holding up fine, so after eating some crackers and chips, I headed up the trail and the big climb between Habron and Camp Roosevelt.

First Sign of Trouble

I made the climb up from Habron alone. Though once in a while I could see Jamey Groff ahead of me, I did not catch up with him on the climb. Near the top I had that bonk feeling, so I took in a Clif Shot and drank some water. Once I crested the mountain, I was moving o.k. but it seemed like my energy level was low and not recovering. I had issues last year on this section due to running out of water. This year I had enough water, but I still felt listless.

After passing through Camp Roosevelt and taking in some more food, I headed toward Moreland Gap on a 3.7 mile road section with a gentle climb, added due to the fire. My energy level was somewhat better but not great. I stayed with a pack of runners in this section, including Ernesto Casarez, Jamey Groff, C.J. Blagg, and others.

Kern Mountain and the Frontrunners

Arriving at Moreland Gap Aid Station, I saw my night time pacer, Russ Evans. Russ was working at the aid station. My watch indicated I was 25 minutes behind my ambitious time goal to this point. After refilling my water bottles and eating some food, I headed up the backside of Jawbone towards Kern Mountain, passing Ernesto Casarez on the climb. I saw Ernesto a lot over the next 50 miles. On the ridge top of Kern I moved a bit slowly, either from not having enough nutrition or just not feeling all that great.

Suddenly, I saw a runner coming towards me, looking like an experienced trail runner out for a nice Saturday run. Only when he got closer and I could see his number did I realize this was the front runner, Sim Jae Duk. He looked crisp and was running purposefully. Shortly after, I saw Karl Meltzer, looking a bit more spent than Jae Duk, but giving a credible chase. A few hundred yards down the trail, Matt Estes emerged from a “pit stop” and shortly after that I saw Todd Walker giving it his best. This turned out to be the final finishing order as Jae Duk and Meltzer went on to finish in less than 18 hours, both besting last year's record time.

After several miles of rock pounding and climbing and descending along the ridge line, I came to the area on Kern where the trail smoothes out and becomes very easy to run on. I love this section of Kern before it descends to Crisman Hollow Road, but it ends too quickly. Next came the two miles of road to the Visitors Center before the nice trail down to the new Picnic Area Aid Station. When I arrived at the Picnic Area, I got rid of one of my water bottles, refilled the other two, ate some food and got ready to head up Bird Knob. I kissed Helen, my wife, who was working at the aid station. Before moving on, I saw my friend, Sean, and stopped to greet Dennis Herr, who was sitting on a chair along the road just above the aid station.

The Rough Spot

The climb up Bird Knob was its usual nasty ordeal. Before I reached the top I could feel my stomach gurgling. After reaching the top, I trudged onward, finally reaching a rock where I sat and rested. I was in pain as my stomach felt all knotted up. Several runners went by me while I sat, including Randy Dietz. Randy said, “Ed’s tough, he’ll be back.” While I knew he was right, I needed to deal with my stomach, so off into the woods I went. I squatted and dealt with a constipation moment. In several minutes I felt some relief, but my stomach was still a bit queasy. I began moving again, slowly, when Alan Gowen caught up with me. Alan was having somewhat of a rough spot at that point, as well. I told him he was doing great, being several hours ahead of the cut-off. We turned onto the loop and I told Alan it was time to run. And run he did, faster than I at this point. Alan made it to the Bird Knob Aid Station well ahead of me. When I got there, I took in some noodles with chicken broth and drank some water. I was still was feeling rough. I saw Barb Isom coming towards the Aid Station and I told myself to get moving again. I mostly walked until I got back on the main trail. I was able to make good time on the way down, re-passing Alan Gowen and one other runner, but the damage was done, 1:41 for the climb up, 1:19 for the descent. Only two runners of the 137 who covered that section going up Bird Knob had slower times than mine; neither of them finished. My plan had called for doing these two sections in just under two hours not in three hours. But my legs were still feeling fresh and I was hours ahead of the cut-off, so I moved on.

I got down to the Picnic Area and quickly gave Helen my two bottles and grabbed the third one, which had been refilled. My friend, Sean ran with me (behind me) down to 211 East. I passed a few runners in this section, mostly runners who had gone by me on Bird Knob. I saw Gary Knipling and Randy Dietz on their way back as I was on my way down. I caught up with David Yeakel at the turnaround and we came back up to the third stop at the picnic area together. It was starting to get dark and cooler.

Evening and Revival

When I got back to the Picnic Area, I changed into a long sleeved shirt, fresh shorts, and a new pair of outer socks. I grabbed my flashlight and my headlamp and Camelbak and headed back up the Wildflower Trail, through the Visitors Center and across Rt. 211 onto the paved portion of Crisman Hollow Road. I mostly walked the uphill road portion, occasionally running when the road flattened out, passing a couple of runners along the way. I turned on my flashlight whenever a car came down Crisman Hollow. Soon I came to the turnoff for the Massanutten Trail and Kern Mountain. I drank some water, ate a cookie at the unmanned aid station and headed up to the ridge of Kern Mountain. I carried the flashlight in my right hand and my headlamp in my left hand which served me well. I was able to move over the rocks on Kern Mountain and later on Short Mountain at a good clip. I felt as if I owned the evening and passed several groups of runners as I headed across Kern Mountain. Coming down the trail to Moreland Gap, there was a runner who was wearing a yellow fluorescent shirt who wouldn’t yield the trail at first when I asked so I had to yell, “Right or Left!” and the runner finally let me go by.

At Moreland Gap Aid Station, Helen gave me the hamburger and French fries, I had asked her to bring to my next stop. I ate the fries and half the burger. I switched Camelbaks, had the other Camelbak bladder refilled and asked Helen to carry it to Edinburg Gap, the next aid station, 8.2 miles away.

The Pacer

At Moreland, I picked up my night time pacer, Russ Evans, an experienced MMT finisher, who has done the course in 27:13 and 27:37 in his two trips. According to my plan, Russ expected me to get to Moreland more than two hours earlier than my 11:30 arrival. I drank some water and was ready for the climb up Short Mountain. Though I knew I wasn’t going to break 27 hours, I still wanted to prove that I could handle Short Mountain and Powell Mountain. My climbing legs felt good and I made the climb without any trouble. Once we crested the ridge, I walked until I felt more recovered from the climb. Eventually, I did some running when the trail would let me, catching up and passing Gary Knipling and a sleeping JJ Rochelle along the Short Mountain ridge. As we got near the aid station, Russ advised me, “don’t take too much time at the aid station and leave before Gary and the other runners you passed get here.”


Helen helps Ed at Edinburg Gap. Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

I downed some of Brenda’s Famous Potato Soup, switched out my Camelbak Bladder put on some gloves and moved on, determined to cover the Powell Mountain section in less than three hours, instead of the 3:51 it took me in 2005. The climb up to Waonaze Peak went well. I made it to the top of the ridge in 30 minutes. Once we were at the top, I ran fast over the next several miles, passing several runners. The trail is mostly good for running between the high point of the mountain and the intersection with the blue trail. Russ previously told me he didn’t want me walking my way through the night and I was making sure that I not to disappoint him. Unlike last year, when the wheels started coming off during the Powell Mountain traverse, I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the run and at times it seemed like I was running away from Russ, the man who has been known to burn out pacers (at least that’s what John Dodds claims). After reaching the junction with Blue Trail, I slowed down and walked for a spell, running again before the crossover to the Woodstock side of the mountain. The trail gets more difficult after the crossover, so I walked, shuffled, and occasionally ran. Eventually, we came to Woodstock Tower and then the aid station. The statistics show that I covered this section in 2:48, better than an hour faster than last year.

Talking to Ralph

At Woodstock Tower, I drank a Yoohoo and tried some of Hunt’s turkey broth soup at the aid station. I drank another Yoohoo and next thing I know, the contents of my stomach come flying out of my mouth. Helen told me to move over across the road, but I wasn’t moving. I could feel some more stuff gurgling in my stomach and again I “talked to Ralph”. Someone asked if I was feeling better and I said, “Yes”, but then a third time Ralph made his appearance as I projectile vomited onto the dirt road. But ah, I felt better and said to Russ, “Let’s get out of here.” I ditched my Camelbak and grabbed two water bottles and, with my stomach completely emptied, headed down the trail. I wasn’t running much and I didn’t feel like eating, but Russ convinced me to eat part of the quarter sandwich grabbed at the aid station. I knew I needed some nutrition. Then Russ suggested I have a cracker, which I ate slowly. After five minutes he suggested I eat another cracker. I could drink water, but wasn’t too thrilled with food. My energy stores seemed a bit low in the early daylight, but I was determined to get back in the game. My legs and feet were still feeling decent with little pain and just a touch of tiredness.

We got to Powells Fort and I took off the long sleeved shirt as I could feel the morning warmth and humidity, even at 7:15 a.m. I looked in my drop bag, but did not find a short sleeve shirt or singlet, so I decided to run shirtless. I told James and Rebecca Moore that I was sorry I didn’t have time to stop for breakfast this year. Margie Schlundt handed me a glass of juice and refilled the water bottles. She told me that Randy Dietz had just left here a few minutes ago. I didn’t really care where Randy was at that point, I just wanted to finish the run and hopefully catch a few more runners along the way.

Newfound Energy

Russ suggested that it was probably a good idea not to run too much on the fire road which gradually and gently climbs from Powell’s Fort to the turn-off that goes to the left of the Strasburg Reservoir. I was still working on recovery anyway. I had a few small pieces of a granola bar, eventually eating the entire bar. I fast walked with an occasional run until we got to the point where the Massanutten Trail diverges from the fire road. I ran a portion of this trail section. Soon we reconnected with the fire road, before turning onto the Bear Wallow/Tuscarora Trail and climbing up to the intersection with the Meneka Peak Trail. I could feel the energy returning to my body and I made good time on this climb. Last year I had help from the Ibuprofen. This year I was “drug free” as my body was mostly pain free. Given my experience at Woodstock Tower, I avoided anything that might upset my stomach.

When we reached the summit, the valley below was covered with a thick cloud and it looked like it was going to rain any minute. I had no rain gear, but Russ had a plastic bag, which he offered me. I told him “Not yet.” I never needed it as we felt only a couple sprinkles of rain. I took off like a rocket, knowing from last year’s experience, this section was good running terrain. I occasionally kicked a rock and bounced into the air but maintained my balance as I moved along, passing several runners on this downhill, including Jamey Groff, who was well on his way to completing his first 100 miler in under 30 hours. I told Jamey, “Get moving, you’re almost done!” Soon I came into Elizabeth Furnace feeling fully revived and ready to attack the finish.

Finish Strong

I got rid of the two empty water bottles and grabbed a full water bottle from my Elizabeth Furnace drop bag. I took some Clif Shot to give me some added energy for the last nasty climb and looked at my watch and realized I had almost no chance of breaking 29 hours. I moved as fast as I could, walking hard up the steep hill to Shawl Gap, passing a couple of runners on the way up. They took out the rocks, but added the steep final climb. As we neared the top, one runner fast-walked by me as if I was moving in slow motion. After 23 minutes, I was at Shawl Gap and it was downhill to the finish. I took off, covering some of the same ground I had come down some 28 hours earlier heading down from Shawl Gap, passing several more runners, bounding down the fire road. I felt pretty damn good for a guy who hadn’t slept in 30 plus hours and had battled a bad stomach during the run. When we turned on to the trail I took a short walk break before starting to run again. I moved well as I came onto the gravel road then the asphalt with less than a mile to go and no more mountains to climb. My watch read 10:04, so 29 hours was out of the question. Going through the horse gate and then turning onto the field I could see the finish, so I picked it up a notch and sprinted towards the finish line. The clock read 29:11. My time for the last section was 0:56, the 11th fastest of all runners and my two hours time for the Powell Fort to Elizabeth Furnace was 16th fastest. My overall place was 49th out 113 finishers, 151 starters.

My second MMT was a done deal. And I was able to walk relatively pain free!

The Aftermath

I went back to my cabin and soaked my feet and legs in an ice bath for three minutes as that was all I could tolerate. But the three minutes helped keep the legs and feet from getting sore. I only had one day where going down stairs was a little painful. I walked at least two miles each day the week after MMT. The only significant after effects were some tiredness and a slightly numb left long toe (the toe next to the fat one). In general, I had a post race high which has lasted for several days.

I didn’t quite catch up to Randy Dietz, he finished nine minutes ahead of me, but I moved up 37 places between Bird Knob Aid Station and the finish. I expect Randy and I will be back next year to give it another run. Tom Corris had a great run and finished in 25:46, hours ahead of both Randy and me, to win the Senior Division. Lots of runners finished their first 100. Mike Broderick, who finished at the same time as Tom Corris, will be 50 next year.

Thanks!

I owe thanks to a number of people: my wife, Helen, for crewing and putting up with my pre-race nervousness, Pacer, Russ Evans, for keeping me focused, Race Director, Stan Duobinis, for holding it together and giving a great course to run despite the Cardinal Fire, Tom Corris, for hosting some great training runs, Randy Dietz, for inspiring me and giving me added incentive, Aaron, Anstr, Sophie, Desiree, Bill V.A. and the other photographers, all the aid station captains and workers, the other runners, and all the other volunteers who made the 2006 MMT possible.

Happy Trails,

Edward Cacciapaglia