Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run

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Massanutten Mountain Trails 100
2008 Race Report
One Ultrarunner Is Born and Another is Reborn

by Leo Lutz


Following the 2004 Bull Run Run 50 miler, I took a full two year hiatus from ultrarunning. I had been running ultras since 1999, and it seemed like it was time to do something different. I am admittedly a creature of habit. I am task oriented, comforted by structure and probably a bit more than a little compulsive (do I sound like an ultrarunner). However, despite my aforementioned personality traits, my predictable routine was becoming stale. I was felt as though I was stagnating in my job, and my running didn’t seem to be improving. Therefore, I set my sights on some new goals. I enrolled in a graduate school program, dabbled in long distance swimming (I finished the 4.4 mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim in June of 2005), and I entered a few short distance triathlons.

Leo and Katie
Leo and Katie before the start.
Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

Something else happened during this hiatus. A true case of serendipity. In late 2004, I met this woman who had recently returned from serving in the Peace Corps in the country of Haiti. Her name was Katie Jens. She grew up about 10 miles away from my home town and she was beautiful. Then I discovered that she was also a total outdoors person. She hiked, fished, kayaked, and was passionate about gardening. Needless to say, I asked her out and she promptly turned me down. I persisted (do I sound like an ultrarunner?). In March of 2005, I finally convinced Katie to have dinner with me. Actually, her best friend convinced her. As the story goes, Katie’s friend persuaded her to go out with me by saying, “just have dinner with him–it’s not like you have to marry the guy.” We quickly became inseparable following our first date, and I suppose she didn’t have to, but Katie did marry me on 24 December 2006. Best day of my life.

After we started “officially dating”, Katie and I spent much of our time outside. We went camping, rock climbing, hiking, tubing and worked in her parents’ back yard garden. Eventually, we started going for short runs together. These runs evolved into longer trail runs. All this time, Katie was forced to listen to my constant stories about a group of people I usually referred to as the “ultra community”. In August of 2006, while Katie was in Maine with her mother and sister, I snuck off to Maryland and ran the Catoctin 50k. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my ultra appetite was returning.

The Movie

In 2007, I found myself on the computer following the developments at the MMT 100. A few weeks later, my friend, Harry Smith loaned me a copy of Ben LaDeiu’s recently completed MMT Movie which documented the journeys of several runners during the 2006 event. One viewing of this movie was all it took--I was like a fish lunging for the bait! Recovering drug addicts often describe that they are lured back to using drugs through phenomenon called “euphoric recall”. Euphoric recall is defined as only remembering the pleasurable parts of an activity which also has neutral and/or negative parts. I had run the MMT 100 in 2002, and this movie sparked many of my good memories from that experience (euphoric recall). I immediately started to hint to Katie that I wanted to run the MMT 100. She was calmly supportive.

The Training

During 2007, I started to log more long runs and I ran a few ultras (Catherine’s, Big Schloss, and JFK). Interestingly, Katie began to experience the ultra bug. I first noticed this when she started spending time with my Ultrarunning magazines. Then, Katie kept increasing the distance of her long runs while I was training for the Schloss and JFK. Finally, in October, she ran her first 50k in Reading, PA (Blues Cruise). Katie was hooked and started talking about doing a 50 miler.

My training was shaping up a bit differently than my past ultra training. The main difference was that I was doing a significant amount of speed work. Weekly, I went to the track, and cranked out intervals. Consequently, I was faster and lighter (about 25 pounds lighter) than in years past. This seemed to pay off in November of 2007 when I finished the JFK 50 miler in 7:27, bettering my previous JFK PR by more than 40 minutes. At this point, I should also mention that I was lucky enough to get myself onto the Massanutten entrants list–no small feat this year!

As 2008 began, my training continued to progress. I gradually increased my milage, I put in the mandatory long runs and I continued to do speed work with a few folks who were training for the Boston Marathon. I felt fast and light, and I was hopeful for good performances at Spring races. Meanwhile, Katie was also having a productive winter and early Spring. We completed a few long trail runs together, and she finished both the very tough Buzzards Marathon and the HAT 50k. Katie was ready for her first 50 miler–the Bull Run Run.

Bull Run 2008 was an interesting day. Given my JFK performance and my consistent winter training, I thought I was ready for a fast time. Unfortunately, the day was rather warm and very humid. I went out like a flash and proceeded to get my ass handed to me. I did manage to finish in just under nine hours, however, I suffered from mile 18 to the finish. On a positive note, Katie and several other friends finished their first 50 miler. The next day, Katie was already talking about doing another 50 miler. I suppose she had also taken the bait, and fell victim to this euphoric recall phenomenon.

MMT Weekend–2008

While preparing my drop bags, I explained to Katie that I wanted to complete the run without a pacer, I encouraged her to crew for me. She agreed, and we had several “how to crew” discussions during the days leading up to the event. We left a rainy Lancaster, PA on Friday at noon and sped toward the Skyline Ranch. On the way down, Katie asked many questions about the run and about crewing. I was a nervous wreck about the run, but I attempted to answer her as best I could. I knew she was going to be excellent crew, but I worried about how she would handle all the down time.

We arrived at the Ranch with plenty of time to check in, attend the briefing and get some dinner. As I greeted other runners who were arriving, several folks (Gary Knipling and Tom Corris) warned me not to go out too fast as I did at Bull Run. Thanks guys, I had been telling myself the same thing, but it’s always nice to have your thoughts validated by others. After dinner, Katie and I had a beer, set up our tent and tried to get some sleep (no thanks to the nearby dog who barked all night).

Saturday started with the usual pre-ultra ritual–up early, dress, breakfast and get to the starting line. Before I knew it, we (me and 140+ other runners) where headed down the road to the Buzzard Rock trailhead. I had a loose strategy for the race. I wanted to go out easy and get to Gap Creek I by about 1:00 p.m. I figured that if I could get in and out of Gap Creek I by 1:00 p.m., I had a good shot of getting onto the Short Mountain Ridge by nightfall. From there, I just wanted to keep moving as well as I could to the finish. In terms of my crew support, Katie planned to go for an early morning run and then hook up with me at Camp Roosevelt. From there, she planned to meet me at every aid station on the way to the finish.

Leo near Milford Gap.
Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

The first twenty five miles of the race went by rather quickly. I was feeling pretty good as I entered the Habron Gap aid station. I was a bit behind schedule, but I congratulated myself for going out easy (I normally do not go out easy). As I ascended the long climb out of Habron, I had a short low spell. I had eaten my first real food of the day at Habron Gap, and the Ensure, V8, fruit and Coke combined to make me feel heavy and lethargic on the climb. Compounding my over-filled stomach woes was the fact that I picked up my double bottle pack at Habron Gap. I ran the first twenty five miles carrying only one bottle, and I immediately missed my minimalist load. I felt a tad better after I completed the climb and I rolled into Camp Roosevelt feeling giddy. I was only about 15 minutes behind where I wanted to be and I saw Katie for the first time of the day.

Leaving Camp Roosevelt, I reasoned that I could make up some good time on the gradual climb that I knew started the next section. I was wrong. This section ended up being extremely wet and proved to be more difficult to run through than I had anticipated. This was the first section on which I knew my feet were going to take another beating on this course. In 2002, I completely trashed my feet at MMT because I did not take proper care of them. On another note, this section was rather wild as I saw three snakes and a turtle. One of the snakes was a rattler which did not seem to want to share the trail with me (jerk). The runner in front of me went right by the snake without seeing it, but he came to a quick halt when he heard me scream several four letter words. I gingerly got off trail and made a large detour around the snake. Now, not only was I suffering from the trickery of euphoric recall, but I also had an acute case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I know this because every odd looking stick on the trail was now perceived by my mind as a rattlesnake.

I rolled in and out of Gap Creek significantly behind schedule, but moving along pretty well. The climb up Jawbone and the run along the Kerns Mountain Ridge went reasonably well. As I continued on down the trail to the 211 East aid station I was feeling a-ok. I checked in with Katie who fed me, watered me and sent me on my way to Bird Knob. This section became a real low point for me. First, my feet had been wet for a while and were really starting to hurt. Second, I was beginning to have some chaffing issues. Third, as I climbed I saw several people going the other way who, according to my time calculations, were exactly where I wanted to be at this point. I knew now that Short Mountain in daylight wasn’t going to happen. On a positive note, I got to see my good friends, Harry Smith and Diana Widdowson who were volunteering at Bird Knob.

Leo by junction with Wildflower Trail.
Photo: Angelo Witten

When I made it back to 211 East, Katie handed me two McDonalds cheeseburgers and a chocolate shake. This, along with a quick sock change sent me quickly on my way back to Gap Creek. This section was very difficult. Daylight was fading and, much like the section going into the first Gap Creek aid station, the trail was extremely wet. Consequently, my feet were again unhappy. In addition, I noticed pain and a bit of tightness in my left ankle.

I didn’t stay at the Gap Creek Aid Station for long as I knew the next section was rather short. However, I did take the time to put on some half-tights which significantly helped my chaffing issues. At this point, I just wanted to get up and over the dreaded Short Mountain Ridge. I stopped briefly at Moreland Gap, took a deep breath and headed out to play on the rocks on Short Mountain. The section started with some excitement as the wind picked up and it rained. However, after about an hour or so, the stars came out and the night was calm and bright with the light of nearly full moon.

My visit at Edinburg Gap was a nice long one. Katie and a volunteer worked on my feet by patching blisters, lubing hot spots and putting dry socks on them. Meanwhile, Harry Smith, Diana Widdowson and Marcia Peters also joined my crew team. They offered me soup, Red Bull and Ensure. I ate everything they put in front of me. As I left the aid station, I knew I had eaten too much because it took all I had to hold it down. Surprisingly, my nausea quickly subsided and I had a rather pleasant walk to Woodstock Tower. The best part was that fact that, thanks to Katie and the volunteer at Edinburg Gap, my feet were dry and happy. In fact, my new mantra became, “I am happy because my feet are happy, and my feet are happy because they’re dry!” My only real problem was my aforementioned ankle pain. It was getting worse, and I really could not run anymore.

From Woodstock Tower all the way to the finish, my mood was pretty good, however, the best pace I could maintain was a moderate walk. Between Woodstock Tower and Powell’s Fort, I pushed my left gaiter down to look at my ankle. Not surprisingly, it was very red and swollen. To my recollection, the only running I did after leaving Edinburg Gap was the grass field at the finish line. At the finish, which I managed to find in 30:46, I threw my pack into the air, crossed the line and gave Katie a huge hug. Harry, Diana, Marcia and many other friends welcomed me, and I confidently stated that I can now put my days as an MMT runner behind me.

Wow, what an event. The MMT and the VHTRC never cease to amaze me! I don’t think it’s too terribly difficult to succumb to euphoric recall when it comes to VHTRC events. I have to give a huge, heartfelt shout of thanks to Katie, Harry, Diana, Marcia, Mike Yoder, the foot volunteer at Edinburg, all the folks I ran with during the event, and to the fine people who make up the VHTRC. As for putting my days as an MMT runner behind me, we’ll see...euphoric recall is an enigmatic notion. I hope to see everyone soon, but for now I’ve got a lot of neglected housework that I promised Katie I’d get to after MMT  :-)

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