I had been thinking about running MMT during the long New England winter ever since getting accepted in the race's January lottery. We had a tough winter here in western Mass, not seeing bare ground on the trail in middle April. This had me a bit worried; only 1 month of running on dirt before a 100 miler.
The day before the race it rained hard - hard enough that I could barely see while driving down the highway on our trek down to the race. When we got close to the race venue, we saw swollen streams and washouts across the road.
We camped right at the start of the race, which is great for the 4:00am start. Just before 4am, the runners all congregated around the start still feeling half asleep. The race starts out with 4 miles of gradual dirt road climb. The first 1/2 mile or so went out a little faster than I would want for running 100 miler, but it settled down a little bit up the first few miles on the dirt road climb. The bridges on the road were overflowed with shin deep water - so much for keeping the shoes dry. After the 4 miles of dirt road, the race heads right onto single track.
(4am starting line - photo by Ryan Paavlova)
The single track started out relatively smooth with a few choice rocks and then quickly turned into an obstacle course with awkwardly placed off-camber rocks. I was at the back of the train with about 10 guys ahead of me. One after another of the guys were peeling off to take a leak. I guess I hold my urine better than others because before I knew it I was in the front and everyone else was behind me. I kind of didn't realize this at the time; I still thought someone else must be ahead.
I kept it controlled on the downhill and then hit the short road section into the aid station. In typical 100 mile fashion, some individuals fell that it is necessary to run sub 6 minute miles leading into the aid station. I changed my stuff haphazardly with nervous excitement with my "borrowed crew" (my wife’s crew, Meghan, was also crewing me for the first 50 miles), and got out of there 2nd place.
(Cruising in the early miles - photo by James Williams)
Karl Meltzer was in the lead. I ran up the trail after him with a little bit of nervous energy. Karl stopped to take a leak and I ran by on an uphill. Now it’s me in 1st place, with Dave with a cool beard, toothpick in his mouth, and southern accent was in 2nd and Karl was in 3rd.
Dave followed me and I kept it in check running the uphill and taking it easy on the downhills. Finally, my bladder has enough and I have to take a leak. Karl, Jim Blandford (last year’s winner) and Dave pass by me as I piss. I try to catch back on the train when I am done, but they are gone. I finally catch back on to Dave, but the other guys are gone. We run together for a few miles at a solid pace but Karl and Jim are nowhere in sight.
When we get to a dirt road section around mile 15 or so I catch a glimpse of Karl. I close the gap back up and run up the trail when it turns single track. On an uphill that I stupidly run up, I passed Karl and then Jim easily. I got in front of those guys for a mile or so until the trail goes downhill. Karl and Jim blew by me as I decide to save my body and run the downhill’s at a moderate pace.
(Enjoying some single track - photo by James Williams)
I got updates at aid station at around 25 miles. They already have 4 minutes on me in a few miles. Then I had to stop and truly use the woods. While I am power squatting on the side of the trail Pierre Loic Deragne passed me. I got going again and checked how far everyone is ahead of me at the next aid station. They are killing me on the downhill - Karl and Jim are 15 ahead and Pierre also has a gap. At this point, I started to have the negative thinking. I am too old, too fat, too slow and defecate too much to do well at this sport.
This goes along for a few more aid stations with the gaps growing steadily. I start to feel low on energy, either the negative thinking has me in a funk or running all the uphill’s has took its toll. I tell myself to take it easy around 35ish miles and walk the hills and tone it down and save some energy. Now I really lag behind the leaders, they are over 30 minutes ahead at mile 40 while I am prancing along down the trail.
I started to get it back together around mile 50. I drank an ensure and talked to my 'borrowed crew' Megan. I was starting to feel better. I picked up the pace and the miles started to tick off. I struggled a little bit with the rocks. They are so awkward, off-camber and sharp, with weird distances between each. I guess I am used to buffed out technical trails back home rather than technical trails that don’t get much traffic. They just feel so wonky.
(Running down a river/trail - photo by Ryan Paavlova)
The rhythm continues - drink an ensure, run some wonky rocks, check the gap at the aid station, and keep hearing that the gap is growing. I ran into an aid station around mile 60 or so and ask how far to the next aid. One volunteer excitingly says "only 5 miles", I think to myself "great this should take no time at all". The 5 miles dragged on. The first few miles are up a stream bed with water running down. It then changes to a steep climb with wonky rocks on a ridge, then continues to a downhill with loose rocks. I got it done, but it took forever.
Finally, I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I hit a road section and know that at the end of it I will be running with my pacer, Jason Bryant, who is waiting for me at mile 78. I jammed down the road and saw Jason. I was glad to have someone to run with and to bitch to. We got all our stuff together and run off down the trail out of the Visitor Aid Station. I bitched to him how hard the race is and about all the stupid rocks and water I have been running through. From that point on it seems like everything turned around. Jason told me Karl has a 1 hour lead, Jim has a half hour, and Pierre has 20 min.
(Cruising the last road section before Jason)
I felt good; the trails are smooth with some climbing. We got to work. I was running well, and have good energy both mentally and physically. At each aid station I drink more ensure and check the gaps to see how I am doing. I keep feeling better and the gaps keep getting smaller.
More aid stations, more ensures, more shrinking gaps. I am really surprising myself, after 85 miles I felt good and Jason told me some stories with Southern charm that brighten my mood.
(Refueling at an aid station, photo by Rob Dolan)
We rolled into mile 88 and the volunteers say that both 2nd and 3rd looked kind of bad and stayed at the aid for a while. Jason and I ran off and kept a steady pace, nothing crazy. He keeps telling me he sees wet footprints on the rocks and he loves "chasing ghosts". Finally on a long switchback uphill the ghosts are real. This one is not a reflector on the trail it is a pair of headlamps.
(Just one of the rocky Massanutten trails)
I worked a little bit harder and then saw the headlamps close up after crossing yet another overflowing stream. I power hiked by Pierre on an uphill streambed with water flowing down.
We kept running well and I saw the headlamp of Jim. I ran by him and told him good job. We turned out from the trail onto a road section. I push the pace a little bit, but it still feels good. I knew Karl was gone, so now it is all about time.
I ran well for the last miles. I hit the last 4 miles of the final, never ending dirt road and wished the race was 100 miles rather than 103.7 miles. We passed a car on the way in and Jason asked how much we have left. The guy in the car said '1/4 mile'. I told Jason that now it is time to ramp it up. I started running harder, eternity goes by, as we ran 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile, then 1mile....the guy in the car was obviously wrong (or I was going really slow). Finally, I saw the finish and ran it in. 19:06 and 2nd; not bad. I am stoked I felt so good at the end and ran so well.