Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run

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by Rick Moyer

Rick Moyer
Rick Moyer at Edinburg Gap.
Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

Got a trifecta at MMT this year. In 2006 I ran the race, 2007 crewed it, and this year did some pacing.

First off, a very large thank you to the Virginia Happy Trail Runners Club, hosts for this event. Anyone who looks beyond the surface at MMT (as any RD will) can get a faint glimpse of the huge undertaking that it really is. Even with the years of experience at putting it on, surely there are a hundred details that miraculously come together at race time that allow the show to go on. VHTRC has some big-time competent and professional members, and it shows clearly at their races, year after year.

As a pacer, there was no need to get up at 3 or 4 am race morning. In fact, my plan was to sleep as late as possible, in order to remain bright and cheerful as the night wore on and fatigue set in for my runner. Finally rolled out of the hotel after a nice hot soak in the tub and ran into one heck of a lot of traffic for a Saturday morning in a very small VA town. Seeing the tents downtown I remembered the wine festival which was taking place. In fact, Friday night we joked about bagging the race and hitting the festival, wine glass strapped around the neck! After a windy and cool Friday, race day dawned bright and clear, warming up nicely. Gonna be a great day out in the mountains, for sure. As my pace was slow, my mind wondered, and noticing a large flea market, I pondered the fact that all those folks were unaware of the monumental race unfolding a few miles to the south. They had their own deal going and we had ours. Probably never even heard of ultra running. But then again, maybe that is jumping to conclusions. In my club is a runner who spends most weekends selling this and that at flea markets, and though not out of shape, I imagine no one at any of the many flea markets he attends would ever guess that he ran ultra marathons at one time. Ran them well as a matter of fact, as that fellow is Charlie Trayer, 1989 Ultra Runner of the Year and someone who has run one of the fastest 100k times in U.S. history. So who knows, maybe over in that field is someone who has been where I am now heading. As life goes on, one discovers that it is a small world indeed.

RuthAnn Helfrick
Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

It was a pleasant drive down Rt. 340, green and mellow. Up over the mountain and then into Camp Roosevelt, the mile 33 aid station. Here I saw my runner for the first time since dinner the previous evening at the Old Mill Inn in Front Royal. Told her the crab and artichoke dip looked risky and hoped the words werenít prophetic. She was ahead of schedule and looking strong. Allow me to introduce her- RuthAnn Helfrick, an early forty-something ultra runner from a small town in central PA. Wife and daughter of coal miners. And one heck of a tough chick. Many of you who run in this region may have seen her over the last few years, she has run Dr. Hortonís Lynchburg series as well as Bull Run, HAT, Punxy, and Highland Sky. Oh yeah, and Vermont twice, where she hit a 22 hours and change last summer. With blond hair, striking blue eyes, and a warm and pleasant demeanor, she is hard to miss.

From Roosevelt it was on to Gap Creek 1, a nice place to hang out for awhile, soaking up the sunshine and 60s tie-die theme, with some great Hendrix playing in the background. The buzz here was about a big rattlesnake that was right up the trail, and also a bear sighting. I missed the womenís race leader Amy Sprosten, but did see the 2nd girl, and didnít know her. Checked with the girl tracking numbers and found out it was Laurel Valley, from Maine. Iíve seen Laurel mentioned on the ultralist from time to time, but didnít know her credentials. Well, we figured someone unexpected would have a good performance and here she was. RuthAnn arrived a few minutes later, still looking strong. Her crew consisted of husband Ed, niece Cecilia, and fellow Mid Penn Trailblazer officer Joel. She was in and out and on the road to Rt. 211, on the heels of David Snipes and company. While they engaged the long, winding, and rocky Kern Mt. ridge I made my way back down the forest service road and hung a left on Rt. 211. Shortly after heading downhill, I spotted the nastiest bit of nasty at MMTÖÖ. Birdknob. Looks like a volcano sticking up, a steep and long pitch to a pointed summit. Woo hoo, glad Iím not running that puppy today, heck, itís already in the 70s and feeling a bit warm. Rolled into 211 and parked about a half mile from the aid station. This place was rocking! With the 10 mile out-and-back which very few can do in under 2.5 hours, this is a great place to see all the people you know. I got to see everyone in my club, the Pagoda Pacers, out of Reading, PA. Plus, ultra buddies from around the region like Margie Hughes and Laurie Reinhart, not to mention Challen Edwards from Arlington. All of these fine young ladies went on to get their first MMT finish! Last year finisher Joyce Fendley showed me photos from her latest competitive activity, which is body building. Keith Knipling was the race leader leaving 211 II, sporting the ever present smile. Todd Walker followed not long thereafter, and as I understand it, these two frequent flyers engaged in an epic battle to the end.

RuthAnn came into the aid station with a head of steam. She took some soup and a gel bottle and water and Gatorade refills and headed up the hill. For this race we were trying a new type of gel, much more liquid that the normal paste. RuthAnn doesnít care for gels, but in reading race reports of the top runners, taking nutrition every 15-30 minutes seems to be crucial. She found the more liquid type gel to her liking at Promised Land so we had her carry a small bottle which got refilled at the aid stations. A couple hours later she was coming back into the aid station, looking no worse for the wear. A good sign, as Bird Knob can really put the hurt to you. Husband Ed now joined her for the run back up to Gap Creek, where I might be joining her depending on how Ed felt. It was now getting dark and I tested the two headlamps with me and chose the brightest one. They rolled into Gap II and Ed was ready to return to crewing duties as the mud and rocks of the last section were not to his liking. We hit the road and headed for the trail leading to Moreland Gap. It is only 2.7 miles, but there is a nice climb up and over Kerns for a second time, this time making a right at the top instead of the left. RuthAnn told me she hadnít eaten much at Gap, and really hadnít eaten much for awhile. Oh oh. After the race she calculated burning about 8000 calories and taking in less than 1000. Not a good recipe for success, but a valuable learning experience. We got into Moreland and both had some soup. Al Kershner from PA came in right behind us. Looked like he was picking up the pace nicely after resolving some stomach issues. A light drizzle was also starting at this time, but didnít seem threatening so I remained in short sleeve shirt, RuthAnn donned a light windbreaker. We hit the trail to tackle that pile of rocks known as Short Mountain. Crossed the forest service road and soon saw a sign that proclaimed Edinburg Gap was 8 miles. Yup, going to be awhile before we see some friendly faces again. We progressed steadily and topped out on the ridge with no issues. Here Leo Lutz, also of PA, caught up to us and we had a nice conversation that helped to dissipate the inky darkness around us. Then came the storm. Now, I had watched the weather at noon and didnít see any mention of rain south of PA. But here it was, the wind roaring through the trees and a cold rain beating against us. With a couple hours till Edinburg things were looking a bit grim. RuthAnn was more concerned for me with no coat, then she was for herself. As a pacer the last thing one wants to do is be a distraction to the runner. So I used a trick from the mind-numbing years spent on the factory floor and just stopped all thoughts besides the essential ones of forward locomotion. But as quickly as the storm had blown in it ended and as we lost elevation it warmed up a bit. But some damage was done as RuthAnn developed an upper respitory infection and breathing became more difficult. We wound down toward the aid station and arrived at about 1:20 am. Pre-race we figured we would be doing well to hit Edinburg by 1 am, so things were looking good. I took some potato soup as the crew looked after RuthAnn. She was at the food table so that was a good sign.

RuthAnn and Crew at Edinburg Gap.
Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

Wandered through the parking lot and found the trail to begin yet another climb and another 8 mile stretch to the next aid station which was Woodstock. This climb was not too bad, we walked it briskly. Passing us in this section were Phil Lechner and Beth Auman from my running club. Beth was doing pacing duties again this year, her third. Phil was working for his second finish, and it wasnít coming easy, as we passed them back a few miles later, Phil leaning against a tree to stretch out the legs. Here we leapfrogged with some other runners, they passed us as we got off trail. The reflectors were OK, but both RuthAnn and I much preferred the glowsticks. The last couple miles until Woodstock didnít seem to have either though. RuthAnn was still steady, but running less. She had begun to feel nauseous, as the lack of calories was catching up to her. Candied ginger didnít help much. She was doing a good job with the electrolytes and anti-fatigues, taking them regularly. One thing that RuthAnn wants in a pacer is the ability to chat up a storm to take her mind off of the struggles. I wasnít real chatty, but came up with a game of her trying to guess a song that I sang a few lines from. She liked this and the pace picked up a bit. She likes the 80s stuff, but I could not remember that many words from songs of that era. Much easier to remember are the catchy tunes of the 60s and 70s, many of which she guessed. ďBorn in the wagon of a traveling show, momma used to dance for the money theyíd throwĒ. Bet most of you got that one, as the average age at this race was 42. She baffled me with oneÖ.what song is about a monster and has no words? Godzilla? Whoops, nope, that has words. Oh yeah, Frankenstein by the albino fellow. Well, you get the idea. So we whiled away the miles with music trivia and got to Woodstock before long. Now, as we got to every aid station I would ask Joel or Ed where the 2nd place women was. Always about 20 minutes ahead, not losing ground, but we werenít gaining either. I said hi to another ultra buddy, Joan Messick, who was working the food table. Then we were off. RuthAnn is fortunate with shoes, and never had blisters or even took off her shoes the entire race. By now the jogging was getting to be a rare occurrence, we mainly walked. The race was definitely wearing on my runner. I thought we covered the 5+ miles to Fort Powell quickly, but time was starting to drag for her. We stopped here for a bit, and RuthAnn had a coffee and rolled up a pancake to eat. Not much, but it was something, eating was just not very appealing to her by now. After the race we theorized on the lack of appetite that developed. She felt that the fact that most of the blood was being shunted to the major muscles, and had left the stomach without much blood and limited the ability to eat. She based this on her knowledge of the body as an RN. Maybe this is why it is recommended to eat so frequently, because it keeps the stomach working and involved. Whatever, next race she will have a solid game plan for nutrition. RuthAnn never took a seat the entire race. I notice others have a different approach, taking a seat and relaxing, eating and drinking. It seemed to work for Rande Brown, David Snipes and another runner as they left Powell well after us but came blowing by on the dirt road which made up the first couple miles out of the aid station.

After turning off the dirt road onto trail there is a significant climb which switchbacks up the mountain. Here RuthAnn stopped and rested a time or two, a rare thing. She is a very good climber, normally power walking at a rapid pace up the hills, as many regional runners can attest to as they helplessly watch her ponytail bobbing away into the distance. It is a long 7.5 miles to the last aid station. At one point she stopped, light-headed. I gave her a protein bar and that helped what appeared to be a low blood sugar condition. By now she was struggling with several issues, but pushed on steadily. We began the song game again and that helped to pass the time. She actually began to run again on the long, switch backing downhill into Elizabeth Furnace.

We crossed the road and then the bridge and into the aid station where I hoped to find pizza, though it was far earlier than two years ago. Oh yeah, box upon box of pizza. The perfect ultra food- carbs, protein, fat, and salt (had pepperoni). She left ahead of me, wanting to push on and get it over with. I caught her on the hill and once again we were switch backing toward an unseen summit. Two years ago this climb was a straight up in your face type of climb, which many complained about, myself included. But after doing that long switchback, Iíll take the straight up climb any day, at least it is over with fairly quickly. Finally crested, then on and on through the woods, geez, where is that road? Eventually we came to the gravel road, and with an eye on the clock, I insisted the RuthAnn run it in. This was supposed to be 5 miles but we were already going on 75 minutes and no end in sight. We were creeping up on the 30 hour mark and that was just not going to get it! I pushed and prodded and we slowly jogged on, finally hitting macadam. She said it is only a quarter mile but I was relentless, we even ran up the hill. Then came the turn into the field with the ranch in view. Well, now, that is one fine sight! RuthAnn ran across the field with a slow stutter-stepped, wheezing jog, but she ran it in. And so ended her first foray into the world of MMT, a respectable 29:35. Third woman overall behind Amy Sprosten and Laurel Valley. She will be back!

Keep Running,


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