Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run

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Run Caroline, Run!

by Rande Brown

Short of rugged terrain and fabulous volunteer support, Massanutten promises few things. From year to year you never really know what you're going to get. For those of us hanging out at the finish line during the last minutes of the race, we got to witness a rare and wonderful thing as Caroline Williams finished her epic adventure.

Caroline Williams at finish
Caroline Williams at the finish flanked by Vicki Kendall (left) and Barb Isom (right). Caroline still has seven seconds to go!
Photo: Ray Smith

I told my wife I was thinking of writing a report about Caroline's race and she said, "You don't know anything about her race!" It is true. I didn't run with Caroline or pace her or even get a chance to talk with her about her race. I don't even know Caroline that well. But I ran MMT this year and I saw Caroline cross the finish line in 35 hours, 58 minutes, and 39 seconds. With that information, it is pretty easy to fill in the blanks and they are impressive.

What I know about Caroline in general is that she is a friendly and familiar face at many of the VHTRC events. She is generous with hugs and compliments and she knows and loves everybody. I know that Caroline is a back-of-the-pack runner with a couple of MMT DNF's and that she has taken a beating at many a trail run.

What I know about Caroline's MMT race this year is that it took great courage for her to start with two DNF-monkeys parked comfortably on her back. I know at some point in the race, probably early-on, those monkeys started whispering rude, inflammatory things into her ear. I know that Caroline's ankles buckled repeatedly on the jagged trail. I know she stumbled on the rocks, cursed the unending climbs, and winced on the punishing downhills. I know that she could hear the footsteps of the sweeper the reaper coming closer with each slow hour. I know that she ran when she wanted to walk, moved when she wanted to rest. I know that the checkpoint cut-offs badgered her throughout the day and night, that she would happily reach one only to have to set off again because the clock was ticking, had been ticking, tick tick tick tick a constant, nagging reminder that there was no time to rest. I know that she considered quitting, envisioned a warm bath, soft bed, and happier times. I know that at some point the misery overpowered the joy.

At the finish line, finishers and droppers alike lounged around eating breakfast and lunch. We took showers and naps, relaxed, and then ate again. We laughed, cheered for the occasional finisher and reveled in the joy of being still. Many people collected their buckles and returned to the comforts of home.

At some point late in the day, it occurred to me to ask of Caroline. One guy said she dropped and was already home. A couple of us said the obligatory "too bad" or "bummer" but then another guy said, "No, Caro-"lynn" dropped but Caro-"line" is still out there." Another chimed in though and said she was still moving but not fast enough to make the 36 hour cut-off. At 35 hours and 50 minutes, race official Mike Bur was eying the Caroline Furnace Camp bell, a big iron bell with a thick pull rope near the finish line. Someone had rung it as we started the race on Saturday morning and it seemed a fitting way to end the event.

While glancing between the time clock and the hillcrest where the finishers appear, I overhear two guys talking about the Western States 100 movie where Patti Harden from Maryland rounds the track toward the finish line. Patti wants nothing more than to earn her buckle as the film goes to a dramatic slow-motion with the sound of the time clock amplified and the viewer certain of a perfect Hollywood ending. But as is often common in ultrarunning, there is no happy ending for Patti. The horn goes off, the crowd sighs, and she doesn't get her buckle. I look to the woods again and think about Caroline.

Out on the course, Caroline is running as if for her life. On the road behind her is the cut-off she's been racing for a full day and a half. It bears down on her from behind like a cold, dark wave or something awful with teeth and leathery wings. Up ahead, Race Director Stan is shouting that she must run. He yells with all his might because that is all he can do for her, as if volume and emphasis could translate into energy. I know this because Stan was hoarse at the awards ceremony, having lost his voice on Caroline's behalf.

At 35 hours and 58 minutes someone yells, "Here she comes!" Caroline appears at the hillcrest, battered and weary but moving - and smiling as the finish line crowd leaps to their feet, cheering and yelling and crying and screaming for joy at the beautiful sight. Caroline Williams crosses the finish line with a minute to spare. The heavy bell tolls as the cut-off wave breaks over the crowd and the winged creature vanishes over the treetops. A triumphant Caroline is welcomed into the arms of Stan and dozens of her friends and admirers.

In the days and years to come, I'll surely draw upon my experiences at MMT as a source for strength and self-assurance. And if things get really tough and seem too daunting to be possible, I most certainly will remember Caroline.

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