Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run

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MMT 2011 Report

by Eric Grol

On the weekend of May 14-15, I ran the 2011 version of the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 (herein referred to as "MMT"). I had expectations of running a 100 mile PR but actually came away from the experience with something far more valuable.

Eric Grol
Eric Grol approaches the MMT finish line with red right shin
Photo: Bobby Gill

This was my third attempt at 100 miles, having successfully completed Oil Creek in 2009 and Wasatch Front in 2010. I was confident that these two finishes, along with the cumulative experience gained from many other shorter distance ultras, would provide the requisite experience needed to pull off a performance I was pleased with.

My wife and I had our daughter in December, and I was positive that no matter what MMT threw at me, it could never be as hard as middle-of-the-night feedings in the dead of winter (which as any new parent can attest to, are brutal). Despite the lack of sleep I laid a solid base all winter and continued the training into the spring.

The race offers camping at the start line, which is cheap, convenient, and fun. It is entertaining to interact with the other runners and crews and trade war stories (and lies). At 4 A.M. we were off into the darkness. I really like the 4 A.M. start since nobody was really sleeping anyway, plus it means putting a few extra miles in before the next round of darkness.

For me the race started well enough, I went out at a pace I found quite comfortable and was having no major problems. In Western Pennsylvania we have rocky trails, nothing like at MMT, but I still felt pretty comfortable navigating my way through the terrain.

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

Somewhere around mile 25, I could tell it was going to be a difficult day. My stomach was beginning to turn south and no matter what I tried, I could not seem to get it back. One thing I was positive about was that if I didn't eat steadily, I would not complete this race. My solution was to begin walking to cool my body down, settle my stomach, and begin to regroup. After an hour or so of this I felt well enough to start running again, and was once again making good time.

Over the next 20 or so miles I started to chafe, badly. In very sensitive areas. Nothing that can be done except try to slather on a little extra Hydropel, and keep moving. I also started to develop blisters, which were never bad enough to force me to stop, but I always knew were there. I also had a spot on my right heel that had rubbed raw from contact with my shoe.

At some point I started to experience some pain in my lower right shin, just above my foot. This is not new for me -- I have had this in training runs but never during a race. Again, not much that can be done except forget about it and press on.

I'm not sure exactly at what point I realized I couldn't run downhill, but I distinctly remember trying to run down the road toward the Visitor Center at about 3 A.M. in the pouring rain, and not being able to. My shin was in so much pain that I could not extend my foot to run. Climbing was not an issue, but downhill was excruciating. I could still walk at a decent clip however, so I pressed on.

Eventually the rain stopped, the sun came back up, headlamps got switched off, and many of us were still out there battling. By this point, running either downhill or on flat ground was out of the question. My shin was in too much pain, and by this point had started turning red, which I attributed to trashed tendons. That's what color things turn when they're injured, right? I could still walk, however, and quite quickly, so I continued.

"I ain't broke, but brother, I'm badly bent"

Eric Grol at Gap Creek II aid station
Eric at the Gap Creek Aid Station
Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

By the time I got to the Picnic Area, I couldn't walk so quickly anymore. Since my right shin was in so much pain I was now doing sort of a shuffling/hobbling walk, which altered my gait significantly that now my left calf was a knot, and my right knee hurt. I distinctly remember walking the slow, steady, easy downhill into the Gap Creek aid station and realizing something was wrong. In addition to the chafing and blisters, my entire body had seized up like an engine with no oil in it, and my shin was in some serious pain (and getting redder). My guess was that I was dehydrated so I decided to sit for a while and drink Gatorade, and try to rally for the last section to the finish. I drank about 10 cups of Gatorade, ate some food, and must have looked extra beat-up because Aaron kept taking my picture (he was such a good natured guy and kept cracking jokes that it was impossible to get mad at him though). I shuffled out of there and made my way to the finish.

The final climb up Mt. Whatever-You-Call-It was no problem. I still had juice in the legs and could climb steadily. The downhill was hell. Walking downhill on a road hurt. Picking down a mountain that consists of nothing but big rocks was a new level of pain. I was getting passed by people like I was standing still, because I basically was. Somebody commented that it looked like I had perhaps gotten bit by a spider due to how red my leg was, but I was sure it was only trashed tendons. Eventually I made it to the road, probably took almost two hours to walk the downhill to the finish, and got passed a bunch more. I think I set a record for taking the longest time to "run" through the finishing chute -- I got passed by two more people on this section alone -- but eventually I got it done in 34:46:13.

Anything that could have possibly gone wrong, went wrong, but I was tremendously happy that I kept battling and didn't give up. This was not the kind of time I was hoping for, but this experience really taught me something about never quitting, no matter what happens.

"Everything is healing nicely"

Eventually I got home, where I proceeded to fall asleep on the couch, barely into my 2nd beer. I went along with my wife and daughter to my wife's doctor appointment since I hadn't seen everyone all weekend. Upon walking into the room, the doctor took one look at my red leg and declared "That thing is infected. You need to get to the emergency room, immediately." An hour later I was admitted to the E.R. where they slowly determined that the cut on my heel had gotten infected during the race, and I had a skin infection that may have spread to my blood. According to the doctor, this is why my shin hurt so bad and I couldn't flex my foot enough to run. I was hooked up to an I.V. and flooded with antibiotics for three days before being allowed to go home again. Just for the record, a hospital has got to be the absolute worst place to recover from a 100 miler. No internet, you're not allowed off the floor, I couldn't even take a shower. I was happy to finally get out of there.

"Another set of scars to boast"

This race, perhaps more than any I've ever done, taught me to always hang in there. During the race things went from bad, to worse, to unimaginable, but I kept trying to stay positive and remind myself that just like the midnight feedings, this too would eventually come to an end. My wife is begging me to never do this again, but I can almost guarantee I will come back to challenge myself against the rocks.

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