by Russ Evans
I left work at 10:45 AM Friday morning to go home, finish packing, and head up to the Skyline Ranch Resort. My neighbors and good friends Jay, Lyn and Josh Carroll were going to be my first shift crew, through Saturday afternoon. Lyn had taken the day off work to take me up to the ranch so that I would not have to drive home after the race. Jay and Josh were coming up a few hours later after Josh got out of school. My second shift crew - Beth Lannon, my wife and Michelle Evans, my daughter - would be coming up early Saturday afternoon and were planning on catching up to me around Gap Creek. This changing of the guard was planned so that they would be awake and perky through the long grueling night hours.
Lyn and I had a nice drive up to the Ranch, even taking a nice detour through The Plains when I-66 became backed up. Lyn is tapering for an upcoming triathalon in Columbia, so as we rode, we swapped stories on each others training regimens.
We arrived at The Ranch in time to check-in and unpack a bit before heading over to the race briefing. While unpacking, my two running partners and cabin mates drove up - Mike Lipton and Dave Harper. They had already been over to check-in and picked up their race packets. They had been waiting for me since the cabin was reserved in my name. Mike, Dave and I had been running together in these mountains frequently over the past year, along with a number of other "core" runners that included Bill Sublett, Bill VanAntwerp, Mike Gholson, Jean Lichtenberger, and, recently, her twin sister Janice Haug. All of us seemed to share a special bond borne out of our love for these trails. One thing was for sure, we knew what to expect from the terrain. Bill Sublett and Jean Lichtenberger had previously conquered the MMT100 course and were working as volunteers at this race. Bill VanAntwerp was coming back for his second attempt, after earning a Visitors Rock from last year's race. Mike, Dave and I were all very nervous about how we would fare over the course. This would be Mike's third attempt at this distance and Dave's second. Mike had always been hampered by injuries in his previous attempts and Dave had been vanquished by the 100 degree heat at Vermont the previous year. He kept commenting how he thought this year's MMT weather was feeling like last year's Vermont. The three of us were all worried about how we would do and were just anxious for the time to pass so we could get on with it.
On heading over to race check-in, we ran into Bill VanAntwerp and Carolyn Gernand finishing up their drop bag preparations. I then realized that I had left my emergency backup drop bags at the cabin. Lyn insisted on going back and getting them for me, rather than making me walk the distance myself. At first I thought this was silly, but on second thought, I decided maybe it was a good idea after all. After she returned with them, I ran into Bill Sublett while placing my drop bags in the appropriate bins. He was also supposed to be joining us in our cabin and had originally had a reservation that included a bed. But upon hearing that Dave Harper had decided to run, he had given up his bed for the floor so that all the runners in our cabin would get a bed. Bill is one tough runner, but you would never know it from his easy and quiet, low-key demeanor. I have always thought that he is one of the nicest people I know which, in particular, has made our many mountain runs so enjoyable. We chatted for a few minutes on the porch and I indicated where our cabin was located. Then we headed upstairs to hear the race briefing.
At the race briefing, Ed Demoney gave an informative speech. Especially informative was Ed's clarification of the "fyah" burning on the MMT West between Edinburg Gap and Woodstock. I remember thinking that this would add an interesting wrinkle to the race, as I envisioned running through a gauntlet of burning trees crashing all around me while I would be struggling along. Sort of like that Marine Corps advertisement with the gladiator fighting through all his obstacles to prove his worthiness to become a marine. Ed also described a story about the Fort Valley Slug, who started up a cherry tree in Winter to be able to get some cherries when they were ready in the Spring. The message was clear - determination and relentless forward progress would get us to our destination's end. "I am The Slug", I remember repeating to myself, adopting this phrase as the mantra that would keep me pushing forward through the race.
After the briefing, dinner was served. We all helped ourselves to heaping plates of spaghetti and meat sauce, with excellent garlic bread and some brownies for dessert. I remember meeting Robert Calabria at our table. I recognized his name from reading previous results lists. Towards the end of the meal, Jay and Josh arrived, just in time to get a plate themselves. I sat with them for a bit, while Mike and Dave headed back to the cabin to complete their last minute preparations. Ed Miville and his son also joined us at our table as we chatted about the race. I decided I should head back to the cabin and complete organizing my own preparations. I was planning on loading a bunch of stuff into Jay's truck that evening so we would not be fussing with it in the morning. I also wanted to be ready to sit down with Jay and go over my detailed planning notes that night. Jay is very thorough and I had great confidence that he would perform excellently as my crew. I knew he would study carefully the information I provided about how I wanted to be supported.
It is possible that no one put more time in preparing to run this race than I did. I had made it a point to try and run every single mile of the course in training runs over the past year. Numerous sections I had seen multiple times. I felt like I really knew the mountain and would not be surprised by anything it would throw at me. I also knew that it would take a long time to complete the course as running on Massanutten is not typically a speed adventure. Patience, steady progress, constant concentration on the trail and mental toughness are what it was going to take to get to the end. I knew this and was ready for the challenge. I had never run 100 miles before and so I had little idea about what to expect. The farthest I had previously run was 50 miles and that was only once - at last November's JFK 50 Mile race in Maryland. However, I have read a large number of race reports. When looking for reading material, I frequently check out Stan Jensen's site and will vicariously enjoy others adventures, as well as noting their preparations. I have also used Kevin Sayers site which is nicely organized by topics. Whenever I have a question about a specific aspect of ultrarunning, I have always found his site to be one of the best to be able to locate some quality info based on others experiences. I have also read all of Jay Hodde's race reports, including his complete journal describing his Grand Slam and Last Great Race year. A lot of very useful information about ultrarunning is available from these sources.
I had prepared a whole stack of instructions for my crew. It had literally taken me hours to compile all of this information. Since I had never run 100 miles before, I was determined that lack of planning nor a logistical error would prevent me from finishing. This is why I had drop bags even with a crew's support. I wanted the comfort of knowing that I had a backup in case something happened to them. My instructions included a "Crew Summary" sheet which contained a list of each crew station's number, its name, my estimated time of arrival, the total, estimated elapsed time for each arrival, the projected split time between each aid station, the cutoff time at each aid station, and a miscellaneous info column that indicated if I had a drop bag at the aid station, where I was planning on switching camelbaks, picking up lights, warm clothes, etc. Figuring out the projected splits had taken a very long time to calculate. I had spent a lot of time poring over last year's splits information to derive my projections. I was guesstimating our (Dave, Mike, and I) finishing time to be between 30 and 33 hours and my projected splits reflected both ends of this range. Then I had a separate sheet that indicated each drop bag location and the contents of each bag. I asked my crews to retrieve each drop bag before I arrived at the aid station and just have it available in case I opted for something in it. Next I had a separate sheet containing "Core Crew Instructions". These were things that I wanted performed at every single aid station. I had written them as a checklist and asked them to run through it every time I came into an aid station. I knew that I would forget things if I did not do this and this way, they could help me insure I got everything addressed in the aid station that needed to be done and did not forget something crucial until I was already back out on the trail. This list contained obvious things like refilling my fluids, restocking my pockets with trail food and feeding me. But it also included prompts to ask if I was taking my electrolytes regularly, did I want ibuprofen, telling me how far and how long until I would see them again, informing me of how far in front of the cuttoff and how I was doing according to my projected splits. Then I had a separate sheet for each crew aid stop that described detailed, specific instructions for that particular stop. This included things like where I would probably want warm clothes, pickup lights, battery changes, switch camelbaks, and if there was a drop bag there. It also included suggestions of when the crew might want to go into town and get coffee, dinner, breakfast and when would be good opportunities for catching a nap in the middle of the night. I knew their job was going to be grueling and, yet, I wanted it to be as enjoyable an experience as possible - given the conditions. Everyone agreed that I had been particularly anal about these preparations and we did chuckle over some of my detailed instructions - "please remove the pickles from my cheeseburger and place them to the side", "chicken sandwich on white bread with a thin spread of mayo and please remove the crusts" - that sort of thing. OK, maybe I did go overboard, but ultimately, these preparations did save me as much as 1 - 2 hours out on the course because we were able to so efficiently rip through these steps at each aid station. And as the race went on, they got better and even more efficient in their routine. Looking back, there is no doubt in my mind at how much of an advantage my crew support gave me. It was tremendous. Also, just knowing I had these friendly faces to look forward to was inspiring throughout the whole race. It helped me to always keep "moving forward with purpose".
After Jay and I finished going through the instructions and loading up his truck, we all started to get ready for a quiet evening and early turn in. Bill Sublett and John Dodds stopped in for a short visit. Bill was prepared to sleep on the floor when John mentioned that another cabin had a bed available. Bill jumped at the chance and they headed out to complete those arrangements. Pretty shortly, we had all settled in to get whatever sleep we could manage. To say I slept fitfully is an understatement, but I do think I did manage about four hours of sleep.
A few brief notes about the course itself - the MMT 100 is basically a loop route. We run southward on and along the eastern-most ridge of the Massanuttens for about fifty miles. The turnaround point is Bird Knob, where we then work our way over to the western ridges and run back up northward. As we near the end, we cross back over to the east again to arrive at the start/finish. Over the course, there is a total amount of 16,700 feet of elevation gain, with an equal amount of loss. There are seven ascents that range between 1000 and 1500 feet of elevation gain. There are sixteen aid stations spaced out along the course, typically five to eight miles apart. Most of these aid stations allow crew access and this is where I will meet my crews along the route.
At 3:00 AM, I watched my watch alarm go off. I always like to get up plenty early to complete my preparations, get dressed, drink coffee, eat breakfast and then empty my system out as completely as possible before going on a long run. Bill Sublett stopped in around 4:15 to wish us all good luck. At 4:40 we headed over to race checkin. After checkin, I remember running into Janice and Bill V. and wishing each other good luck. No question about it - those last few minutes before the start are rather nerve racking. Finally, Ed Demoney said a prayer and then counted down the last minute. "5 seconds!… Ready!… Go!"
It was 5:00 AM on Saturday morning and we were finally off! Mike, Dave and I trotted on down the road together chatting nervously about the challenge ahead. We had all agreed that we would generally keep to the slowest person's pace. If someone needed to stop and make a shoe adjustment, we would just start walking and wait for the person to catch up before resuming running again. As we left the road and got onto the Massanutten Mountain East (MME) trail head, we got into a single file heading up to Buzzard's Rock. Ed Schultze, a runner from Maryland that we had met in the mountains previously, had also joined our group as we were running down the road and heading up the mountain. In general, I am a pretty strong uphill climber. While I do not typically run uphill, I do power hike up them at an aggressive pace. For awhile we were together, but then I drifted on ahead. Eventually I reached the top of Shawl Gap and then I stopped and waited for Ed, Mike, and Dave. When they arrived, Janice had also joined up with them. We all started down Shawl Gap together and pretty much stayed together all the way down. For this portion, it felt like I was just out on a fun training run with my friends. Ed's water bottle kept falling out of his pack and it was obvious that something wasn't adjusted properly. We all arrived at the Shawl Gap aid station together at mile 8.7 around 6:48 AM and everyone went their own way to restock their supplies. This is the last time we were ever all together again.
I went and found my crew parked on the side of the road a bit past the aid station. I refilled my fluid supply with my standard mix of 65% gatorade and 35% water. My crew had already pre-mixed this ratio for me and I had my camelbak off when I came up for them to take and refill. I believe I ate some fruit and then Jay, Josh, and Lyn proceeded to work through the checklist. Had I remembered to take my electrolytes? They re-stocked my PB and cheese crackers that I had eaten. Then they informed me that I was pretty much on schedule with my 30 hour pace prediction. Of course, this didn't really mean much at this point in the race. During this time, Mike had come up and was working on some sort of equipment or clothing adjustment. Dave Harper had already continued down the road, as had Janice and Ed, towards the Veach Gap trail head. I started walking and then decided I could run slowly and work to catch up a bit with Dave. Eventually, I could see Mike coming along behind. He caught up with me about the same time we could see Dave ahead on a straight stretch of the road. Ed and Janice were already well on their way and could not be seen.
Eventually, just the three of us were together again. About this time, Kevin Sayers caught up to us and I introduced myself to him. My very first ultramarathon had been his Catoctin 50 Km run the previous August. We talked for awhile and I told him how much I used his web site as a source of reference. He was quite pleased to know it was being used. I have always admired Kevin as being one "tough as nails" runner. I remember reading how he had turned last year's JFK 50 into his own, personal hundred miler by running the course in reverse the night before the race, and then restarting it forward with everyone else. I very much enjoyed our conversation and during this time, I had again drifted ahead of Mike and Dave. Eventually Kevin drifted ahead of me and I was walking the last few bends of the road up to the Veach Gap trail head. I did not need to replenish fluids or take any food as I had just eaten at the last aid station and along the last road stretch. So I just called out my number and moved through the aid station. This is at mile 11.8 and it is 7:30 AM. I did stop briefly to empty some rocks from my shoe, but I can slip them off and on without having to untie them due to the shape of my foot. Therefore, this routine only takes a few seconds. I am standing at the gate to the start of the trail, just past the aid station, and I see that Mike and Dave are stopping in for awhile. I decided to just go ahead and start trekking up the mountain and hope they will soon catch up at the top.
As usual, I was pretty strong all the way up to the top of Veach Gap. I passed Gary Knipling again for the second time as I was climbing up Veach Gap. We chatted a bit some more. Gary is one ultrarunner who always seems to have a smile on his face. He is also extremely knowledgeable about the local wildlife and plants. It is always great to talk with him while running because he is so cheerful, plus you get a good education about the flora and fauna you are passing along the trail. I had let him continue past me earlier because I was waiting for Mike to catch up after his equipment adjustment at Shawl Gap. When noticing that Mike and Dave were stopping in at the Veach Gap aid station, I had started to worry that they were moving too slow and I was worried about getting caught by the cutoff demons. This was why I had decided to keep pushing on up Veach Gap. I had hoped to build a bit of a cushion by the time we reached Habron Gap at aid station five. So at this point, I moved on past Gary too.
Once at the top, I turned left onto the MME trail and headed south along the mountain ridge. This section is pretty nice with many runnable sections as the trail undulates along the ridge top. After three and a half miles along this ridge top, I rolled into the Milford Gap aid station at 8:40 AM, mile 16.9. This stop was being supported by Jean Lichtenberger, her fiance' Larry, and Gary's brother Ron Knipling. It was the first time I had ever met Larry and so I introduced myself to him. Larry told me I was in about fiftieth place at this point in the race. Jean stuffed a bunch of ice cubes into my camelbak and then filled it with Conquest. As I was preparing to leave, she handed me a popsicle!! What a surprise and a treat! It had been steadily getting warmer and the humidity had been high since we woke up that morning. A popsicle was just the medicine to help deal with this heat. I waited around the aid station for a couple more minutes to see if Mike and Dave would show up soon, but when they did not, I went on ahead. At this point I figured it was not likely that I would be seeing them again and that I would be running my own race. For a long time I felt quite guilty about this as I was running along. I felt like I had betrayed our agreement to stay together. But I was also very determined to complete this race. I was not worried about how fast I completed it - only that I did so. I had spent a huge amount of time in training and planning. I wanted to see if I was truly capable of completing this course. So I ran on while feeling guilty all the while. I hoped they would not be too upset with me for making this decision.
Shortly along the trail, I came across Gary for the third time. This time, we proceeded to run together. He was surprised that I was behind him again, but it was only because I had waited a bit at Milford Gap. I told him how I was feeling guilty for pushing on and leaving my buddies behind, but he encouraged me by saying you have to keep going at your pace - especially if you are having a good day. Very soon, we got on the Indian Grave trail and started to descend the mountain. Gary and his family have a cabin up in this area of Massanutten Mountain. He indicated that this was one of his favorite trails on the whole mountain trail system. It quickly opened up from a single track to a nice two track trail and we ran alongside together talking about the different flowers that were now out in the wood. I would bet that there are very few flowers in these parts that he does not recognize. Everytime he spotted a new one, we would stop, and he would point it out for me and tell me its name. This was an extremely pleasant part of the run and I was thoroughly enjoying myself, Gary's company, and the very runnable trail section we were on. Eventually, we reached the next road section, where after a brief break, we turned right on it, and started towards the Habron Gap trail head and aid station. I remember seeing my first Indigo Bunting along this road stretch, with its voice like a "squeaky wagon wheel", as Gary described it. We actually stopped to observe two different ones and get a better look at them before they flew away. I had heard their singing before, but had never been able to spot one. Finally seeing one was pretty exciting for me. We continued on the road, alternating between running and some walking.
Eventually we came upon Joe Clapper at the Habron Gap aid station spraying runners with a hose to cool them down. We had now gone 24.5 miles and it was 10:20 in the morning. The heat and humidity seemed to be approaching its high point about this time. Up until this time, the heat had not yet gotten too bad, though the humidity had been high since we had gotten up that morning. Now, however, I could feel it was going to start taking its toll. After cooling down with the hose, I proceeded to my crew stop where Jay, Lyn, and Josh again proceeded to work me efficiently through my checklist. I told them that the next section was long and would be hot, so to please fill the camelbak all the way up. They had a delicious chicken sandwich prepared for me and a nice cool, wet towel to wipe myself down with. Just before I left, they gave me a wipe to clean up a bit. For some reason, this part of the ritual was one that I really liked and performed at every aid station before leaving - even though you know you will be getting dirty again in just a few minutes. It is nice to feel at least briefly cleaner.
As I was leaving, I said hello to Ed Schultze again as he was still transitioning in the aid station. I started by myself up the mountain while still munching on my chicken sandwich. I remember the climb up Habron Gap as being one of the more challenging climbs on the course. It is quite long and steep, and being at this hot part of the day did not make it any easier. Upon finishing my chicken sandwich, I sucked down a GU to give me a power boost for the climb ahead. This is a routine that I would follow for every other climb on the course, as well as any other times that I was starting to feel a let down in energy. This practice never failed me. Invariably, I would always feel stronger within just a minute or two of taking it. I am convinced that this is not an imagined effect and strongly believe that any ultrarunner should try this as an aid to their climbs and difficult course sections. Soon enough, I started passing people on the way up to the top. I was not running, just maintaining a brisk hike up the slope. Near the top, I passed Bill VanAntwerp who was sitting on a rock catching his breath. He seemed to be doing fine and was definitely in a cheerful upbeat mood, greeting runners as we hiked on by. Just after that, we finally reached the top and again turned south on the MME trail.
I knew this was a long stretch ahead of us and that it would be hot, since we were often fully exposed on the ridge top. I just planned to take it easy and cruise along at a comfortable pace without pushing too hard. Mainly, I wanted to weather this hottest part of the day without getting myself into a bad situation. I had noticed that my fingers were starting to feel swollen and this gave me some concern. I knew this was the result of electrolyte imbalance, but I had been religiously taking my electrolyte capsules once every hour. I was wondering if I was taking too many electrolytes or not enough. Just at that time, I caught up to Janice Haug. Over this past winter and spring, I had done a number of training runs with her and her identical twin sister Jean Lichtenberger. Janice was looking very strong and the heat did not seem to be bothering her either. I remembered that Jean, in particular, was a big proponent of the electrolyte capsules so I told Janice about my fingers swelling. "Yeah!", she said, "I am taking one every half hour because the heat is so high." I thought about it for a minute and decided that there was no way I was going to be taking too much salt in this heat if I started to adopt her strategy. I was losing salt like crazy with the amount of perspiring I was doing. So I decided to do the same thing and for the rest of the hot part of the day, I took a capsule every half hour. This worked too. Within about an hour, my fingers' swelling was significantly reduced and I never experienced that problem again.
As we got to another climbing section on the ridge, I moved on past Janice through Jack's Notch and towards Kennedy Peak. As we got near the out and back to the Kennedy Peak Tower, I again came across Kevin Sayers. He commented about how sadistic our club's management was to make everyone climb up to the tower. "But that's where the view is!", I exclaimed. "Russ, you are having way too much fun!," he responded. And I was too. So far, even with the heat, I was still feeling very strong and thought that perhaps I would be able to achieve a 30 hour time if I kept this up. At the top of the tower, the quote was Ms. Lewinsky's famous utterance "I have learned not to put bad things in my mouth." I took a couple of pictures at the top. As I was coming down, I shot one of Janice on her way up and then she took the camera and shot one of me standing on the ridge. I continued onwards, heading south again once I returned to the trail junction. Shortly after this, I made my only navigation error of the race. The path split and I did not notice the flags directing me to bear right. I was continuing uphill to the left. Kevin, realizing what I had done hollered up the trail, saving me from what could have been a significant detour. All told, it was probably only a couple of hundred extra yards thanks to Kevin. I knew we weren't too far from the 675 Overlook aid station and my crew which was about one mile below there at Camp Roosevelt. I even ran up some of the slight inclines because I was feeling so good. Soon enough, I made it to 675 - 32.5 miles at 12:33 PM, called out my number and continued immediately onward to where my crew would be waiting at the trail head to Duncan Hollow. I thought it was possible that Beth and Michelle might also have arrived, but did not think it was very likely yet. As I rounded the last bend, I saw Josh standing on the trail looking up for my arrival. He told me that Beth and Michelle were not there yet, but that the rest of them were ready for me.
I was immediately startled to see Mike Lipton standing there, "It just wasn't going to happen today.", he said. He had quit at Habron Gap. I was real sad to see that he had dropped.
I quickly grabbed some bug spray and stepped away so I could reapply it. I had noticed the bugs were just starting to bother me again on that last section. Jay and Josh were filling up my camelbak and Lyn gave me a large chicken sandwich. I was feeling good and strong. I was keeping right on my 30 hour pace and I was quite pleased with that. After restocking and reloading, I took off with my chicken sandwich in hand. As I crossed 675 into Duncan Hollow, a group of about 20 other crew and supporters burst out in applause. That just charged me up and I began attacking the trail with vigor.
For awhile, Duncan Hollow slopes gently down hill. After about a mile, you cross a stream (I think it is Passage Creek), and then the trail is pretty flat. On this flat section I remember passing a couple of runners. And finally, the trail starts this long, gradual uphill climb. This relentlessly long climb actually starts to wear me down a bit. The adrenaline rush I had gotten when arriving at Camp Roosevelt was gone now. I knew that once we got to the next trail intersection, I would turn right and do another very steep and lengthy climb over and down into Gap Creek. I had forgotten about this long gradual uphill before the Gap Creek climb. I decided to take a GU now instead of waiting until just before the steep climb. That perked me right up and I felt strong again. At this point I began to realize how efficiently my body seemed to be at absorbing the energy from these GU packets. It was a cycle that was to continue to repeat itself throughout the race - except that I did not bother to let myself feel any significant letdown anymore. As soon as I started to feel a drop in my energy level, I would take another GU - and it NEVER failed to revive me.
As I neared the trail intersection, I heard the first roll of thunder. Looks like we're going to get some rain, I thought. I knew a front was coming through at some point and that it would be way cooler and the humidity would be low, after it passed. I had been looking forward to it, even though I knew it would also bring a brief burst of rain while the front itself passed through. Soon enough, I turned and started up the steep Gap Creek trail. As I neared the top, the rain began to fall. I got wet, and for the first time since starting the race, I felt pleasantly cool. After crossing the crest, The Gap Creek trail was a mud pit and my feet and shoes became soaked. As I was heading down into Gap Creek, I could feel my feet being torn up as they moved around within my shoes. I was surprised at this and instantly knew that the next stop was going to be critical. I must somehow solve my feet problems or I would never be able to complete the race. I knew Mike Lipton had left a roll of duct tape in my run bag and decided on the way down in to the Gap Creek aid station that I was going to try to wrap the bad spots on my feet with it. I am sure the blister block and surgical tape I had was not up to the task. The duct tape literally saved the day and my feet. If I had not used it, I am absolutely positive I would not have been able to finish the course because my feet would have gotten too torn up. It is the first time I have ever used it, but I will never be without it again. What a lucky break for me that it was left in my bag. This turned out to be just one of the fortunate experiences that happened that kept me from ever having a serious let down.
When I arrived into the aid station, I think the rain had just stopped. I was at mile 39.0 and it was 2:08 in the afternoon. Beth and Michelle had literally arrived just 30 seconds before I showed up. As it turns out, I later found out that Jay, Lyn, and Josh also just barely made it to the aid station before I got there. This aid station stop turned out to be the most critical of all the ones I made during the race - because of the foot repair I needed to do. I later found out that my crew said this was the most disorganized they ever were and they were soaking wet and scrambling to get everything together as I came in. And yet, I was never aware of this. They pulled it off like clockwork, refilling my camelbak, feeding me, the usual aid station stuff. They had also grabbed the dry shoes that I had luckily left here in a drop bag. I think they were appalled that I was wrapping my toes and feet in the duct tape - or that I was going to continue running with my feet starting to look like hamburger. Lyn asked if I wouldn't really prefer to use the surgical tape. I knew that surgical tape is good for a few miles, but I still had a long way to go. The duct tape was a gamble, but I thought it was my only hope. After screwing it up a couple of times, I finally got it on satisfactorily and then I put on my socks and dry shoes. I kissed Beth, Michelle, and Timber good bye, said thanks for all their help in these wet conditions and then headed back out on the trail. This was to be my longest pit stop of the race - but I knew I had had no choice. A number of runners that I had passed earlier had re-passed me while I was still in the aid station. I headed back up the Gap Creek Trail.
On the way back up, I first passed Kevin, then Gary and later Janice, all on their way down into Gap Creek. Gary asked if I had seen his son, Keith. I told him I had - he was on his way up when I was heading into Gap Creek. He had been looking very strong and was moving well. That is one of the cool things about the few out-and-back sections like this; you get a chance to say hello to your buddies either on the way in or out. Finally, I turned right, back onto the MME trail heading further southward. One thing was for sure, the hoped for front had not passed through yet. The earlier storm was just a frontrunner that had now only made the thick, drinkable humidity worse. I figured there would be at least one more storm ahead as the front itself came through.
I knew I had a few miles where I could run at a pretty good pace before I would take the turn up Waterfall Mountain, the most difficult climb of the race. On this section, just after passing the intersection with the Scothorn Gap trail which I would be taking on my return trip, I ran into Scott Mills and Derrick Carr. They were starting to mark the course with glow lights for the night runners coming through that section. I stopped and chatted with them briefly. Scot said I was looking strong and I said, so far so good! He asked if I knew what place I was in and I responded that I had no idea. "I'll worry about that at the end!", I said as I started back down the trail. However, that did start to make me curious about how I was doing. Other than my protracted stop at Gap Creek, I had, in general, been passing way more runners than were passing me. Shortly, I met Chad Ricklefs and Ian Torrence on their return trip. Chad was all business as he passed by, but Ian was quite cheerful and encouraging. "You're amazing! Go get 'em!", I told him. I had wondered if I might get a chance to see the leaders as they were coming back, and it was pretty exciting to actually be able to do so. Just before I got to the base of Waterfall, I came across Courtney Fenstermacher. "Do you have any Blister Block?", she asked; "Yes I do.", I replied and pulled out my first aid kit from my camelbak for her to fish it out. She returned the first aid kit after getting the Blister Block and then stopped to apply it while I started up Waterfall, after first sucking down another GU.
We had done this climb before in training runs and the last time we had timed it. It had taken me nineteen minutes when we were still very fresh near the beginning of our training run. I decided to time myself this time after having 44 miles under my belt. It was definitely every bit as steep as I remembered it to be. The humid air only added to the difficulty. Twice I had to stop and pause briefly while I caught my breath - something I had never had to do in my previous efforts. Even so, I still passed a couple of other runners on the way up. It took me twenty-two minutes to complete the ascent this time. "Not too bad.", I thought as I started down the easy slope to Crisman Hollow Road. As I got to the road, I came upon this group of three runners - two girls and a guy - who had been together all day and we had been leap frogging each other several times already. They stopped for water at the unmanned aid station, but I knew my crew was waiting just a couple of miles down the road and I still had plenty of fluid in my camelbak; so I pushed on.
A few hundred yards ahead was a tall, lanky runner whom I later identified as Hans-Dieter Weisshaar from Germany. He seemed to be staying about the same distance in front of me, but then as we neared the end of the road, I came around a bend and he was now very close. I caught up to him just as we were preparing to cross 211 into the Visitors Center and he told me he had fallen down on the road. He didn't look too bad, but I could tell he was somewhat exasperated that he so far successfully managed the trail running only to be tripped up by the road. We ran into the aid station together until I stopped for my faithful crew - Beth, Michelle, and Timber. I was at mile 47.8; it was about 4:45 PM and they were all ready for me.
I remember the fresh cut watermelon pieces Beth and Michelle had prepared for me- they were absolutely delicious and I could hardly get enough of them. I also gulped down some soup. While I was sitting there, Courtney came in, with her husband walking beside her. She pointed me out to her husband. "Thanks for taking care of her out there.", he said. A minute later he came up with a replacement Blister Block and I asked him to put it back in my first aid kit in the camelbak.
About this time, it was obvious the front was moving in and it was getting ready to start poring at any minute. Suddenly the first wind from the front hit and the temperature instantly dropped about ten to fifteen degrees. I was starting to head out. "Do you want your blue vest?", Michelle asked. "Why yes, that would be great!", as I stopped again. I quickly took off the camelbak, put on the vest and then the camelbak again. Now I knew I should be much more comfortable in these cooler, less humid temperatures, as long as my feet could hold up to getting wet again. So far, the duct tape was working and I had not let them do anything to my feet at this stop.
"Be sure to see Mike at the aid station, he wants to start running with you now really bad!", Beth told me as I left. Mike Gholson was my pacer and he had volunteered for the day at the Visitors Center aid station. I knew he had been hoping that he could start running with me from there and accompany me up Bird Knob. I was also anxious for him to join me, but I had also been pretty sure that this would be too early and I was not about to let my run be tainted by starting with a pacer before the allowed time. "Mike, please wait for me at the 211 East station. I'm sorry." I could see that he was disappointed, but he also knew it was what I would say. "Get out of here!", he said as he pushed me down the path.
I started down the Wildflower Trail when the first drops started falling. I was regretting that I was going to get wet again, and probably cold, when I suddenly remembered that I had a rain poncho with me. Well, actually, it was a plastic garbage bag - but that is why I always carry it with me into the mountains. I whipped it out, punched holes for my head and arms, put it on, and headed up Bird Knob while sucking down another GU. Surprisingly, I was perfectly comfortable, and continued to feel strong throughout the climb.
Frank Probst and I had done volunteer cleanup work on the Bird Knob trail a couple of months earlier when the VHTRC had put together its annual trail work party. We had "raked" the trail that day. I remembered that both Frank and I had felt a bit silly doing this "raking" as trail maintenance - but that is what the PATC volunteer who was guiding our efforts that day had insisted needed doing. In fact, there had been some spots where the trail was very steep on some large rocks and it had been dangerous and slippery with the wet leaves on them; so at least on that section, the raking had probably been a good idea. I do remember thinking as I was running up and down this section, that this was MY section of the trail and I had a good feeling knowing it was a bit safer for all the runners that day.
At the top, it flattens out a bit for awhile before we reach the turn around point at 50.0 miles. The two girls and guy trio passed me again on this section. They arrived at the turnaround perhaps 30 seconds before I did and stopped to take some aid. I just popped in, gave my number and immediately turned around to start back down. Shortly, they were right back behind me but did not want to pass as we hustled down the mountain.
I had passed a number of people on their way back down from Bird Knob while I was on my way up. The only one I had recognized was Keith near the top and I was surprised that I was so much closer to him than previously. On the way down, I passed Gary again and Ed Schultze as they were headed up. Gary reminded me that Keith was close and I said I was going to try and catch him. I still did not know what place I was in, but I was now aware that I wanted to do what I could to pass runners, without trying to run beyond my capabilities. After all, I still had 50 miles to go, but I knew that every step I took was moving me closer to the finish now, rather than further away from it.
I reached the junction of the Birdknob, Wildflower, and MME trails and turned right onto the MME; but for the first time I was now heading in the other direction on it. I also knew that this next section for a couple of miles before the 211 East aid station was actually very runnable, so I started to push it just a bit. There are a couple of tricky turns in this section, so I paid careful attention to the markings as I twisted around on the trail. Eventually, I came across Michelle with a camera and she snapped some shots of me as I was in the last section of woods before popping out at the aid station. I remember seeing Keith at this aid station as I entered it. I had now gone 54.2 miles and it was 6:37 PM. I also believed that the worst of the climbs were now over and I had struggled through the most demanding course sections. I did know that Short Mountain and the long stretch between Edinburg Gap and Woodstock lay further ahead, but I just planned to walk those segments. They were not particularly hard, in my mind; just not very runnable and therefore, slow.
Beth and Michelle had one of the best treats I was to get throughout the run waiting for me here - a cheeseburger!!! They had also removed the pickles as my anal instructions had requested. It was absolutely delicious and I devoured it. Mike was with them and he was already to go. I shed my poncho since it was no longer raining and added a long sleeve running shirt underneath my blue fleece vest. Beth and Michelle also efficiently filled my water, restocked me with GUs, and advised me of how I was doing compared to my predictions. They also told me that I was in 25th place. "Wow!", I can remember thinking. I packed my small emergency flashlight, but did not think I would need it until after the next aid station.
Also at this aid station were John and Maria Nusbaum and Norm Hunt, fellow Reston Runners who had come out to wish their compatriots good luck on the course! It was great seeing them all they way out here offering cheers and support. They were asking how long ago I had seen Bill V. and I told them about passing him at Habron Gap. They were going to continue waiting at 211 East until he showed up.
Mike and I headed out of the aid station and crossed 211 on the way to Scothorn Gap. I told Mike that I was feeling good and wanted to run as much as possible between here and the start of Short Mountain as possible. My plan had been and still was to fast hike almost the whole trail section that included Short Mountain and on towards Woodstock, since I knew it was not very runnable terrain, particularly at night. We made good time on the trail, passing the Waterfall Mountain junction again and then soon catching up to and passing Keith Knipling. "Hang in there, Keith.", I said as we went by. Before long, we came upon Deb Reno who was coming back towards us! "Was that the right way?", she asked, pointing back up the trail from where she had just come. "Yes," I replied, "and then you want to turn left at the next trail intersection onto Scothorn Gap and follow it to the next aid station." She indicated that she had only turned around about fifty yards ahead. She followed us for awhile and then eventually dropped back a bit after we made the indicated turn. The run down to the aid station was uneventful until we came to the stream crossing just before the road. The stream was high and there was no way to ford it without getting my feet wet - meaning another shoe change. Beth and Michelle were there and told me not to waste time worrying about it because other runners already had tried and failed. After studying the situation briefly, I gave in and just waded on across. It was now 8:17 PM and I had gone 59.5 miles. They grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich off the aid station and I ate that while changing my shoes and socks. I also put on my headlamp now because it was just becoming dark out. I decided to take off the long sleeve shirt and only run in the vest. I had decided the shirt was too hot, but I carried one in the pack just in case.
It seemed like we had taken a bit of time in this stop, because a lot of the runners I had just passed were already out and running again. I knew the next five miles until we got to 730 were very flat, fast and runnable and would be some of the last runnable terrain for a long time. "Let's hammer this Mike", I said as we took off down Crisman Hollow Road again. We passed a couple of runners on the road and quite a few more when we got onto Turkey Pen Road. They seemed to be startled that we were moving so fast through here, but I knew plenty of time for resting would be available on the upcoming walks between 730, over Short Mountain and on to Woodstock. I also remember passing Hans-Dieter Weisshaar again just before we reached 730. By now it was totally pitch black. Since it is just over two miles, all uphill, on 730 to the aid station, we set out at a brisk walk. There was another runner's light on ahead of us and I remember another runner also caught up to us and passed us, catching up to the other runner in front of us. They were now walking together and soon Mike and I were walking almost directly behind them. This is the last time that any runner passed me in the race.
Out of the darkness, a couple of ladies and a dog appeared, looking for their runners. It was Beth and Michelle! "I think you are looking for us!", I said. It took them a moment to recognize that it was us, but soon we had a caravan of six of us strolling into the aid station. We were now at mile 66.2 and it was 9:55 PM. I switched to my HAWG camelbak, which was already to go. I had already packed a long sleeve shirt and light jacket in it. I just needed to do a quick battery change for my headlamp, drink some of Phil Young's delicious soup, kiss my girls and the dog goodbye, and we were on our way. I made Mike carry two flashlights - one for backup - because I told him I did not want a light problem to slow us down. A bunch of people came into the aid station shortly after we had arrived, but we were the first ones out of there. If anything, it seemed like everyone else was real slow about wanting to proceed forward, while we couldn't get out of there fast enough. I advised my crew that I might make it to the next aid station significantly faster than my predicted split time of three and a half hours and to be looking for me between two hours and forty-five minutes and three hours.
Mike and I had actually done Short Mountain at night, a couple of months earlier. Since I had heard it was supposed to be a really intimidating section of the course, I had wanted to get a glimpse of what it would be like at night. I had also done it once earlier in the year in daylight with Bill VanAntwerp, when it had six to eight inches of snow on the ridge top. I did not think it was particularly hard, per se. Just long and not easily runnable until about the very last mile. My game plan had been to use this section as a time to regain strength by fast-hiking it without trying to run. When I had hiked it in the snow, it had taken us three and a half hours to slog to the end. When I had done that night run - again, it was more of a fast hike, we had covered it in two hours and fifteen minutes. In analyzing the splits of thirty hour finishers for the previous year, I had noted that everyone had taken between three and a half to four hours on this section. Since this was my plan, I was very content that we were able to make good but steady progress. And because I was feeling so strong, I felt confident that we would get to Edinburg Gap in around three hours.
For the most part, this stretch was pretty uneventful. Mike and I were in high spirits and keeping up good conversation over the whole stretch. I was really glad he was with me as he is a great trail companion. When it comes to trail running, Mike is as exuberant as you can get. He loves running in these mountains as much as I do and I know he is wishing he was doing his own hundred miler right now. The only reason he is only pacing is because he had just completed his first one hundred miler the month before at Umstead. Only because he had received a lot of advice to the contrary, did he refrain from also entering MMT. He had been so strong during and after Umstead though, that I suspect that he actually was recovered just fine and could have run MMT too. But I am really glad he was there to pace me - especially through what were the longest and loneliest stretches of the race.
Somewhere along this stretch, Mike indicated that he had rolled his ankle. He said it was OK and not hurting him, but he was trying to be careful how he landed on it. I mentioned that my experience has been that once you turn it, for awhile, there seems to be a higher propensity for it to easily be rolled again. At the same time, I knew my pace was making it difficult for him to exercise too much caution. Even though we were only fast-hiking, we were still covering ground at a pretty good clip. At about forty-five minutes out from the aid station, we passed a group of three runners who seemed to be moving a fair amount slower than we were. They asked how far until the next aid station and I told them. A little bit further along and we finally started to come to the section of the trail where it wraps back around the mountain before it begins its final descent into Edinburg Gap. Here is where it actually starts to be runnable again. We picked up our pace, completed the descent, and started closing in on the aid station.
"Mike, I want to get in and out of this aid station before those runners make it down. I want to be gone before they arrive." About this time I was starting to become fiercely competitive about what place I could possibly finish in. I was no longer doubting, nor too worried about whether I would finish; now I was wondering how well I could finish and how fast. Joe Clapper greets me and says I am having a great race. He informs me that I am in thirteenth place ( I later figured out it was actually fourteenth ), and this only makes me more anxious to finish quickly here. It is 12:55 AM and I have now gone 74.4 miles. "What can we get for you", Anstr Davidson asked as I entered the aid station. "I want my crew," I responded loudly. Michelle popped out from nowhere and I followed her back to the van. "You're early!", she said, "Beth is out walking Timber." I gave her my camelbak to refill and then I went and got fresh batteries to put in my headlamp. Anstr saw me fiddling with them and said he would handle that for me. His wife Brenda asked if I would like some soup and it was incredibly delicious. I asked for a second cup. Meanwhile, Mike was busy getting himself ready for the next section, Beth came back and was obviously distressed that she had not been ready for us, but actually, we were doing fine as far as time was concerned and were preparing to leave. I advised them that I also thought we would be about a half hour earlier than my predicted three and half hours on the next section too. I again went through the pleasant ritual of kissing Beth, Michelle, and Timber goodbye, stopped at the aid station to pickup my headlamp and second cup of soup and then we headed back out. We had gotten out before any other runners had come in and I was feeling strong and excited. I was wondering how many more runners were up ahead and were catchable. We ran across the road and started up Peters Mill Run Road towards Waonaze Peak, sucking on a GU as we went.
This next section, I had run twice before in daylight. After the initial climb to the peak, I had found much of the rest to be quite runnable and had typically covered it in less than two hours. My plan for this section was to also walk it, but I had figured I would run anything that was runnable, if I could. Unfortunately, after we reached the ridge line, I found that it was not easily runnable because the rocks blended in so much with the dirt and I did not want to take a chance by running wrecklessly and twisting my ankle. So we were pretty much forced to our fast-hiking pace, which was OK with me. I was still confident that we would make good time to Woodstock.
About a third of the way along, the complexion of the forest drastically changed. We had just crossed into the section where the forest "fyah" had burned; the one we had been told about in the race briefing. There was a smoky, acrid smell in the air that was slightly irritating. The trees were burnt, the ground was black; it was downright spooky. After awhile, you could see where the forest service had brought in earth moving equipment as the trail became all torn up and more difficult to follow. Our pace slowed a bit as we navigated through this area. I did not like the smell or general feeling of death that seemed to just hang in this whole section and wanted to pass through as quickly as possible. The burnt section seemed to go on forever. We passed a tree that was actually burning on the trail and saw another one off the trail to the left that was also burning. I stopped briefly and tried to put out the fire on the tree burning by the trail, but it was smoldering and smoking all inside the trunk and I knew I would not be successful. Mike and I decided we would tell the folks at the next aid station about the fires.
Finally we came to the end of the burnt section and were back in the healthy forest again. It was a welcome relief. Pretty soon, the trail crosses over from the east side to the west side of the ridge - a sign that we are only about two miles from the Woodstock aid station. After another mile, a sign lights up in our headlamps indicating the aid station is one mile ahead! Mike has told me that he has rolled his ankle a number of times on this last section and asks if he can ice it for a few minutes at the next stop. I say sure, but I am also anxious about other runners catching up to us and we have not yet caught anymore runners. Just then, we come across John Geesler and he says he is walking the rest of the way in. I introduce myself to him and tell him that I think he is a great runner, knowing that he has finished every MMT and that he is always near the top of the finishers. About that time, we pass the sign indicating a half mile to the aid station and I now try to run as much of the trail as we can. We arrive at Woodstock, having now covered 82.5 miles, at 3:56 AM.
Beth and Michelle are ready and waiting for us, but are out of ice. They get Mike some ice from some crew in the vehicle next to theirs. I am very thankful for this assistance. While Mike's ankle is on ice, I scour the aid station tables and get a couple of helpings of soup. I advise them about the two fires I saw burning back on the mountain and they said they would contact someone. I also ask about runners that are ahead. They say one guy just left before we came in and that Janice Anderson had left about fifteen minutes earlier and was moving very slowly because of a broken wrist she just got on that last section. Ouch!! And she was continuing anyway? What a trooper and a tough runner she was. John Geesler had come down off the mountain shortly after we had, but he had not looked like he was going to be moving out too fast. Then, looking back up the trail, I saw two headlamps starting down to the aid station. I ran back to Mike and told him we had to get going. I switched back to my small camelbak here, put my headlamp back on, kissed everyone and took off.
I knew the next section was very runnable and slightly downhill. I wanted to press it hard and try and catch the two runners just in front of me. For Mike, the trail running was becoming extremely tough; he was in pain because his ankle was throbbing. Yet, I was totally driven now in my desire to catch other runners. I was now also worried about the two runners who had just come into Woodstock. Were they gaining on me? Now that the terrain was runnable, I was going to push it hard. Within about ten minutes of leaving the aid station, we passed one runner while he was working with his light, I think. Then it was just a long section that seemed to just keep twisting through the forest. Whipporwills were loudly filling the night with sounds.
Mike was pretty quiet back there and I knew this pace must be hurting him, but I did not dare to slow down. Nor did he ever complain. I felt bad that I was pressing him so much, but I was totally consumed in my drive to catch runners. After a pretty long while, we finally came across Janice and her pacer walking through the woods. He seemed pretty cheerful while she was totally silent as we passed. We flew past them and continued our quick pace towards Fort Powell's Camp. I knew we would come to the intersection of the Tuscarora and Massanutten Mountain West (MMW) trail and that once I saw that, we would only be about three quarters of a mile from the aid station. Just before we got to that trail intersection, we started hearing this whipporwill getting louder and louder. Then I saw his eyes glowing red as he was sitting on a log, belting out his call "whipporwill, whipporwill, whipporwill", over and over. We actually stopped to watch this fascinating display for a few moments. And the glowing red eyes were mesmerizing. Finally, as we started moving forward on the trail, he flew off; but not far. And then we could still hear his calling as we passed in the night - "whipporwill, whipporwill, whipporwill."
We came to the trail junction and I told Mike, we are now going to come off the mountain and the aid stop will be just up the road. As we got down to the road, we could see that night was just starting to end and the first bit of daylight was becoming evident. As we ran into Powell's Fort, I saw Beth's van and called out. Beth and Michelle came stumbling out, obviously just rudely awakened. But everything was ready. I ditched the light, took some electrolytes and ibuprofen while they refilled our fluids. Beth told me to get food at the aid station as they had a great spread. I kissed them and we flew out of there, running over to the aid station. It was now 5:39 AM and I had covered 88.2 miles of the course.
Jeanne Christie, Larry DeHof, and Roger Allison were manning this aid station and were all perky and ready for us. I saw they had soup and asked for some of that. They had a board up showing what runners had passed through and at what time. I was now in eleventh place. I asked about the runners in front of me and what they looked like. Jeanne succinctly gave me the exact information I needed. "There are two runners who just left and they are moving very slowly - you will quickly catch them. There is another runner a bit further ahead, but he is not moving like you are right now. If you keep moving like you were when you came in, you will catch him too. The next runner came through quite awhile ago and was moving quite well. I doubt that you can catch him." "Thank you very much!", I said for this valuable information. "Come on Mike!", I shouted as we started running out of there to the road section we would be running on for a couple of miles.
Sure enough, just a little ways up the road, we saw two runners walking up the road. They were Greg Loomis and Jim Musselman; I knew this from the board in Powell's Fort Camp. I stopped Mike before they heard or saw us. "I want to stop and take a pee now, so we can just fly by them and around a few curves of the road and not have to worry about them catching back up to us." I had actually become quite predatory in my pursuit of runners now and always wanted to pass each one with authority, so they would not think they had a chance of catching back up to me. As it was, neither of them had any intentions of trying to deny us from moving forward and they were actually quite encouraging as we passed. I wished them good luck and pressed on. Now I was in ninth place! But I was still worried that other runners could be moving up just like I was doing. I was worried about those headlamps I had seen coming into Woodstock as I had been leaving there. I was pretty sure they had covered that section faster than I had and had actually made up ground on me there. So I still wanted to press onward really hard. And Jeanne had said there was another runner ahead that I could catch.
We followed the MMW around on the west side of the Strausburg Reservoir and then back to the road again. Just a bit past that, we came to the junction of the MMW and Tuscarora, where we turned right to start the second to the last climb on the course over Meneka Peak. Just as we were turning onto the new trail, Prasad Gerard comes bounding down the trail and is heading the other way. I tell him he is going the wrong way and he just smiles and keeps on going. I know he is not running the race and for that I am glad. I have started to think it is possible that I might be the first VHTRC finisher. There are quite a few VHTRC folks who are quite a bit faster than me - Prasad is one of them - but for whatever reason, none of them is running this year. I also knew that Ian Torrence was long ago finished but I did not know if he had won the race. If Chad won it, then Ian would be the first VHTRC finisher. I thought being the first VHTRC finisher would be very cool.
I told Mike that we had a pretty good climb ahead of us, but after that, there was a long gently sloping downhill that was very runnable and I wanted to fly down it. We both took a GU and started uphill. We made good progress hiking up the mountain. It was now fully daylight again and being back in the light had definitely risen our spirits. Mike was fine going uphills and we were able to talk again as we headed up. He said he only had problems with his ankle on the downhills. Somewhere on this uphill climb, I believe I actually hallucinated a bit from the lack of sleep. I looked up the hill and could swear I saw a beach chair, with an open sun umbrella over top of it, and someone sitting in it on the side of the trail. I glanced down to watch for my footing and when I looked back up, that whole trail vision was lost. I told Mike about it and then we became a bit more quiet as we struggled up the last few steep switchbacks.
Soon we crested the top and turned left to begin the downhill descent. At first it is a bit rocky and you have to scramble a bit to move forward along the trail, but soon it becomes gently downsloping and very runnable. I start to really fly along this section. Mike is now having a hard time keeping up to me, though he never falls very far behind. We are both quiet on this long descent as we are both working hard to cover this section as quickly as possible. Mike, I know is also having to deal with the pain that I know is in his ankle, but never once does he complain. I keep thinking that surely that next runner must be close! I feel like I am running very fast and yet the adrenaline is so high that I don't feel tired. Instead, all I feel is strong. I know I am going to catch this person and I am going to blow past them. But as the long descent continues, I still don't see any sign of them. Eventually, we come to the road and cross it into the Elizabeth's Furnace parking lot where my crew is waiting for me. This is at mile 95.6 and it is 7:28 AM.
At this point I am frantic. I just want to refill with fluids and go. Mike says he needs to remove some rocks from his shoes. Beth reminds me to take some electrolytes. After five seconds, I tell Mike, "I can't wait, catch up to me on the trail or ride with Beth and Michelle", and I dart away.
I run across the bridge and turn left onto the path that goes by the aid station. I do not even want to pause as I go by because I want to catch the next runner I have been so frenetically pursuing. I think about what I want to say and blurt it out as I go running by "Number 32, …What place am I in? … And where is the next runner and what does he look like? …" Ed Demoney and Scott Mills are standing there as I run past and Ed says "Nine, …Eight, … He's right here!" !!! "Thank You!!!" I shout back as I speed up while running up the trail. Now I had passed him and I just needed to stay in front of him. I continued hustling up the trail, running as much as I could and briskly walking the uphill parts. I sucked down another GU in anticipation of the climb ahead. Soon I was pretty far along and I could not hear anyone in close pursuit.
About this time, my right, big toe really started to throb. It was not going to prevent me from finishing, but it was definitely uncomfortable and I worried that I was really going to tear it up on this last section. Since no one seemed close, I sat on a rock along the trail and quickly popped my shoe and sock off. A slight wrinkle was evident in the duct tape wrapping it that had been on since Gap Creek the day before. I was able to smooth out the wrinkle a bit and then slide the sock and shoe back on and restart up Shawl Gap. Before long, as I was heading up a switchback, I heard and saw the runner I had just passed scrambling rapidly behind me. I immediately started running up Shawl Gap. I didn't know how close he was but I was really worried that he might catch me. I couldn't believe that I was able to run like this up a mountain after I had already run ninety-five miles. I was just glad that I was still feeling so strong. I had not seen Mike anymore and I had just assumed he had gone back to the finish with Beth and Michelle. I kept running, pretty much all the way to the top and by this time, I could no longer hear him behind me anymore. Nevertheless, I did not want to let up and ran up over the top of the gap and started down the other side. As I was running down, about a quarter mile after the top, I saw a great surprise. Another runner! This is the one I wasn't supposed to be able to catch! He was moving well, but I knew there was no way I was going to let him get away from me.
He had not seen me yet and I moved forward as quietly as I could while gaining on him. I soon passed him and said "we're almost there now", as I went on by. Just a bit further down the trail took a sharp left and took a winding route through the forest that was not a way that I had ever navigated through Shawl Gap before. I believe there were about four stream crossings that I slowly picked my way across without getting my feet wet - constantly checking to see how close my pursuers were. I successfully crossed them all without getting wet and eventually was brought to a gravel road that appeared brand new and just suddenly appeared in the forest. I followed the ribbons down the road until it eventually brought me to 613 where I turned left. At this point, some dogs from the two yards across the street came barking down at me and wanted to discuss with me what right I had to be running down their road. Meanwhile, I could see the runner I had passed at the top of the gap running down the street and getting closer. I finally convinced the dogs that I should be allowed to pass and they begrudgingly allowed me to go on.
I ran up 613 and turned right onto 608. I walked briefly on the uphill climb for about twenty-five yards and once it flattened out, I took off down the road, got on the bridle path through the woods, came out through a gate and turned left and then followed a row of yellow flags towards the finish line. At this point I was ecstatic and I ran full speed across the field. Beth, Michelle, Timber, Jay and Josh were all there waiting for me. As I approached the finish line, Timber broke away from Beth and came across the finish line with me, dragging his leash behind him.
I had finished the race in 27:37, in 7th place. Because Ian Torrence had won the race, I was designated as the VHTRC champ (I have never been the champ of anything before). It was a finish beyond my wildest dreams; better than anything I had ever thought remotely possible. For some reason, I never experienced any significant bad patches in the race. I remember always feeling happy, excited, and just thrilled to be taking part in this adventure.
I could never have accomplished this finish without my excellent crew and pacer support. They gave me something to look forward to at every aid station, kept my spirits up on the trail, and made sure I didn't leave an aid station without something I was sure to need. More than once, I was getting ready to run out when they would ask me about something critically important for the next section. "Oh, yeah, I would like that.", I would always say. By keeping me from making these mistakes and being so efficient when I was in, I estimate I was able to save two to three hours over the whole course. Mike was the best pacer anyone could ever want with his constant upbeat talk all along through the dark of night. I was a lucky runner to have support like that. I will never forget this race and will always remember this adventure as being one of the most fun experiences of my life.
Ending notes: I found out just after the finish, that my other running buddy, Dave Harper, missed the time cutoff at Edinburg Gap. I was really sad that he had not made it, because I really think Dave has a good hundred miler in him waiting to get out. I also heard that Janice DNF-ed because her hip was bothering her. I haven't gotten the full story on what happened there yet, but everyone who had seen her up to that point said she was looking strong. Ed, Gary, and Keith all finished between 32 and 32:30. Lastly, while hanging around at the finish, I heard that Bill V. had missed a cutoff at Woodstock. I was crushed over hearing this as I knew that finishing this race was very important to him. Then, as I was heading over to the awards ceremony, I ran into Bill loading some stuff in his car. I stopped over to offer my condolences when he exclaims "What do you mean you're sorry?!? I finished!!!" I could not have been more thrilled as we headed inside for the awards presentations.
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