Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
My First 100 Miler
by Kari Brown
All photos: Aaron Schwartzbard
As I drove to the ranch my belly was jittery and I was scared. Walking into the star studded pasta affair didn't make it any better! I recognized many faces from other races and some from the covers of magazines ... Yikes what was I getting myself into?
As I listened to Stan go over directions and expectations I thought to myself ... I am not a 100 mile runner why am I doing this? I don't even like belt buckles and I certainly don't wear denim shirts!
Well little did I know that the next two days held all the answers!
In the cold predawn morning at the start line I shivered and worried about quitting and getting lost but it all went away with a sudden jolt of a horn sounding off. That is right, no fancy start here, sort of a ready-or-not here it comes start. So I was off, on my first hundred mile adventure ready-or-not!
My husband Rande Brown and my "ultra-metor" Chuck Wilson ran next to me for the first hour and a half. We talked and started out slowly. Climbing up to buzzard rock overlook was neat and Aaron was there waiting to take a picture. After getting into Shawl, Rande gave me a goodbye squeeze and said he see me at the finish line.
Kari Brown and husband on Buzzard Rock
O.k. so now I was really on my own. But it kind of felt good and liberating. So I ran the next 20 miles slow and steady with my pink gators on my feet and a smile on my face! I ran into a buddy of mine, Ernesto Casarez and we talked about what was to come. Nearing Habron, I had a few moments when I felt like I was going out too fast. When I saw Kev Hawn in front of me I asked him, "Hey Kev am I going too fast?" He just gave me a smile and asked how I felt. I felt good...damn good!
Entering Habron I was excited. My friends Alex Papadopoulas and Tina and Todd Mowery were running the station and cheering loudly! I changed my shoes and socks, grabbed a Pb&j and headed out! Now the race was really about to start. I hiked up and up and up! I listened to Zeppelin and played counting games to help get my mind off of this crazy-ass climb I was doing. This section was long and hot! When the mountain could no longer go up I let out a loud cheer and relentlessly ran down and down and down. This is where I met up with Gary Knipling. "Oh Man", I thought to myself now I know I am gonna "dnf" if I am running at Gary's pace! I am not a 100 mile runner! He assured me I was keeping a good pace, gave me a shot of water and told me he would see me at the finish!
At Camp Roosevelt aid station I ate the best grilled cheese sandwich of my life! I was still feeling good and having fun. Ernesto and I were continuing to run the same pace and enjoyed running with each other. During one section of trail between Gap I and 211 he called my name and I looked up and we saw a yearling black bear run out in front of us across the trail. Life was good! The race stayed much the same way throughout the day. When I got to 211 the first time I was eager to meet up with infamous "Bird Knob." The only thing I knew about this place was it was tough and I wasn't allowed to drop once I got up there. So up I climbed. At one point I came to a "rock cliff" and I stared up at it with my hands on my hips wondering how was I going to get up there. Then I noticed the "real trail" to the left of the big-ass boulders! It was such a funny time for me because the question was not if I was going to get up there but how and it wasn't even a trail! I may just finish this thing I said out loud to myself. I saw Rande blasting down from bird knob and he assured me that I was doing just fine so up I continued. The aid station there was amazing! Home sweet home! My friend Ernesto and I arrived there at the same time and he told me it was time to start heading back down because we would soon need our lights. So we ran fast and well down the mountain back into 211. This is where the suffering began for me!
Alex P. was my pacer. He was eagerly waiting for me. Ernesto and I grabbed our lights and I changed my shoes and got a blister fixed and then we headed out with "our" pacer. Alex was way full of positive energy. He told us corny jokes and pointed out the planet near the crescent moon and hiked our asses to the top of yet another mountain. It was now dark and we clicked on our headlamps. This was a tough, rocky, muddy, wet section. I got my shoes, socks, insoles and gators soaked. I began to shiver and found it very hard to run this section. It took us 2 hours and 20 minutes to get into Gap Creek II. This is where I saw bunches of people suffering for the first time of the race. Many people were wrapped in blankets and huddled around the fire. One of these runners was Mark Radan. Alex got him out of the chair and onto the trail. Now Alex had three people to pace!
Now it was time for Short Mountain! At 10:30 the sleep monster started taunting me so I took a no doze and got Alex to tell me stories. He did and it helped keep me going. About 30 minutes later I got tired again and started feeling bad. I began to whimper some, then cry and then sob! These poor guys were stuck out here on the mountain in the middle of the night with a sobbing girl to take care of. My crying became quite comical to my counterparts. Every time Alex heard the whimpering beginning he would become a drill sergeant and say, "o.k. boys, when Kari cries, everyone has to run!" Well that got my ass to toughen up real quick!
When we entered Edinburg, Anstr took me under his wing. He walked me to the bathroom, walked me back from the bathroom, found me a chair, gave me some soup, and then dangled a carrot in front of my face. He said, "If you get up and leave now you will be the 2nd place women!" What the heck! Second place???? I figured I was last. I was just trying to finish this damn thing - I had no idea that I was actually doing it well! So I yelled, "come on Alex, let's go! And we were off!
Moreland Gap was a long section. Lots of walking and clock watching. The sun was bound to come up but it seemed to be taking it's good ol' time. Just when I was beginning to feel down again, I heard the most beautiful sound in the world! The sound of a lonesome whippoorwill – the sun would be up VERY soon! After 3 hours and 13 minutes we entered Woodstock Tower where our friend Tina would join us. She was fresh and peppy and kept me going. We all ran like a band of wild horses. The sun was up and we had hope. We did this section in 1 hour and 32 minutes which was the 8th, 9th, and 10th fastest times in this section!
Entering Powells Fort I began to cry again. I had my number in my hand because I was going to switch into my shorts and the lady asked me if I was quitting. "Oh no" I said I have been crying all night. I am just taking my number off to put on my shorts. She smiled and gave me a big hug!
Kari and Husband at the Finish
I struggled with the climb and the decent into Elizabeth furnace. Mark was feeling great so I urged him to go ahead and he did. When to the aid station I received a huge motivational hug from Barb Isom. She told me that I had it now! I told her that I felt like a train wreck and she said that is how I was supposed to feel! O.k. then so I smiled at the pizza (which I couldn't eat) and away I went for the last section of the race. It was tough! The million dollar question during this section was, "Hey Alex and Ernesto, Where is that field." I must have asked about that field 30 times! As we ran down the last part of the down hill I saw a spectator who reassured me that I was only 12 or so minutes from the ranch. Well that made me cry too! I was so close! But where was the field? So sure enough a few minutes later we came to a horse pasture and Ernesto whispered to me, "Kari. Can you see the field?" YES I could!
This was the moment that I have been working toward! Alex and Tina trotted off to the side and allowed Ernesto and I to go hand in hand across "the field!" I cried so hard that I couldn't see much but I could hear people cheering my name. At that point I realized three things... I AM an ultra runner, I love belt buckles, and damn I can't wait to wear my new denim shirt!