Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rattlesnake Mountain

Another day of excellent fall weather led me to my first run on Rattlesnake Mountain. It's only about an hour from Seattle just off I-90 and I am surprised in retrospect that I haven't done this run before, but I have been lazy and rarely drive past Tiger Mt which is slightly closer. The Rattlesnake Mountain trail covers 11 miles from Snoqualmie Point Park to Rattlesnake Lake. I started at Snoqualmie Point and turned around at Upper Rattlesnake Ledge for a round trip distance of 16 miles. If you want a shorter route, the best views by far are from the Grand Prospect viewpoint which is about 5 miles from the trailhead at Snoqualmie Point.

My out and back route starting from Snoqualmie Point Park at Exit 27 off of I-90.

The view from Grand Prospect overlook (Mile 5).

Mt. Baker

Glacier Peak

About 0.7 mile past Grand Prospect, I wandered off the trail onto a gravel road for about 25-50 yards and crossed over the ridge to suddenly get a nice view of Rainier--which was never visible from the trail.
View of Rattlesnake and Chester Morse Lakes from upper Rattlesnake ledge, where I turned around.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Granite Mountain

Sometimes on a sunny day in Seattle, you just have to do what it takes to spend some time in the mountains even if you can't go very far.

Lookout at the top

Looking down at the trail

Mt. Baker

Mt Rainier

Crystal and Denny Lakes

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sahale Arm

Last year I got my first real taste of adventure running when Scott and I did the approximately 40 mile loop around Devil's Dome (Read Scott's writeup here) in the Pasayten Wilderness in the North Cascades.

Approximate map of our route.

My biggest motivation to go out trail running is to experience the scenery, and it occurred to me while running Devil's Dome that much of the best scenery is in wilderness areas or parks that won't grant permits for organized trail running events. At that time, I thought I would do more backcountry running in 2010 and spend less time at organized running events. Well, I could not have been more wrong as I have run an ultramarathon event every month this year so far except for June! And I really haven't done any adventure running at all! With fall rapidly approaching, I wanted to get in a few running adventures in the backcountry before the snow if possible. Last weekend Scott and I returned to the North Cascades to climb up to (but not onto) the glacier at the base of Sahale Peak. Despite starting off in light rain with fog and clouds, this is an amazing route that I highly recommend. It was really more of a hike given the challenging elevation gain (just over 4,000 feet in 6 miles) although many of the switchbacks leading up to Cascade Pass are runnable. As you can see in the photos below, the mountains, lakes and glaciers which abound on this route were mostly hiding in the fog on the way up. Shortly before we reached the campsites at the top of the ridge where the established trail ends, we were surprised by a couple of backpackers descending. They had camped on the ridge the night before and warned us that it had snowed! I have to say I was glad that I had not been camping up there that night. Sure enough, we were soon forging our way through a few inches of fresh snow. Combined with the fog and mist it was pretty much a complete white out when we arrived at the top. Scott made me nervous by approaching as close as possible to the glacier which I thought might be hard to judge given the fresh snow. Then we waited for close to an hour hoping for the skies to clear and we could not have been more richly rewarded! We both took pictures furiously as the mists swirled and cleared and we went from no visibility to stunning views of mountain peaks and glaciers in every direction. Some of the pictures are below and you can find more pictures and description in Scott's writeup.

The route map up to Sahale Arm.

Scott leading the way towards Cascade Pass in the morning mist.

View into the Pelton Creek basin.
Doubtful lake in the mist on the way up.
Scott approaching the snow line.
Sahale Peak (elevation 8680 ft)--it's further away than it looks (we're at about 7800 ft).
I couldn't get enough of the views of the glaciers on these mountains!
Me floating on the clouds!
Sahale Peak from Doubtful Lake.
Looking into the Pelton Basin on the way down from Sahale.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2010 Cascade Crest 100

My first experience at Cascade Crest was volunteering to work at the Mineral Creek Aid Station at mile 73 in 2008. That was also my first exposure to a 100 mile race. I must say that I didn't leave the event thinking I needed to enter the race. Quite the contrary! People arrived at our aid station pretty beat and they faced an 8 mile uphill climb on gravel roads at that point. Watching them climbing up the road out of the aid station as we told them 'only a marathon left' looked painful. Too painful. The best part of volunteering at the aid station was meeting Rich, Scotty, Linda and Terry all of whom returned to Cascade Crest in 2010--Rich and Scotty volunteering, Linda pacing and Terry racing. I'm still not sure why I decided to try first one and then ultimately two 100 mile races this year. I guess the struggle to finish the Where's Waldo 100km last August convinced me to step my training up a notch.

Cascade Crest is a loop course that starts and ends in Easton, WA just east of Snoqualmie Pass as you can see on the map from my Garmin recording below (we ran the loop in the clockwise direction):

My pre-race thinking about the course was dominated by two words. Sustainable pace. Trying to figure out how to target a sustainable pace in a 100 mile race has been driving me crazy! And then, even if you figure out a reasonable target, how do you try to achieve/maintain it in the event knowing that your pace will vary all over the place due to mountain climbs, downhills, technical terrain, aid stations, etc? Now that I have been recording and logging my runs for over a year using Garmin devices, I decided to review some of the data to try to look at "sustainable" paces.

Here are the average paces I ran in a variety of races over the last year:

Where's Waldo 100km (2009): 14 min/mile (~10K vertical)
Coyote 2 moon 100km (2010): 15:46 min/mile (~19K vertical)
Massanutten 100 miler (2010): 16:30 min/mile (~16K vertical)
White River 50 miler (2010): 11: 55 min/mile (~9K vertical)

It was clear at White River that the pace I ran was not sustainable for the entire 50 miles, much less longer. So looking these data over it seemed reasonable to pick a target pace of 15-16 min/mile for Cascade Crest. That still left me with the problem of how to decide during the race if I was on track or not. Unfortunately I still don't have an answer for that. The initial section of the race has two substantial climbs, so I decided to hike these climbs without attempting any uphill running and then see how I felt. You can see the elevation profile for the beginning of the course below:

The weather for the race turned out to be pretty much perfect. Highs around 60 and lows around 40. The cool temperatures made some of the exposed climbs much nicer than they sometimes are. Here is a picture of me at the starting line about an hour before the start. Unlike most 100s, this one starts at the highly civilized hour of 10am! And they even feed you pancakes before you start. Charlie (the race director) gave an excellent pre-race briefing recognizing all the people who helped put the race on and reassuring all the runners that we were there to run in a supported event. If it didn't turn out to be our day, we should stop rather than push too hard. My favorite line was "by the time you need course markings, you will know what they look like". That probably saved 20 minutes compared to the typical detailed explanation of the course that you immediately forget anyway!

We started off on a couple of miles of dirt roads leading to the first climb up Goat's Peak. You can see where we were headed below--Goat's Peak is the mountain with the rock formations at the top:

After hiking for an hour or so up the narrow switchbacks leading to Goat's Peak, we were rewarded with gorgeous views like the one below:

By the end of the race, we had to make it to the far side of the big lake and then loop back along the mountain ridges on the other side. I had hiked up most of Goat's Peak chatting with BJ and we stayed together through Cole's Butte before I lost him somewhere on the way to Blowout Mountain. Shortly after Blowout Mountain, we turned onto the Pacific Crest trail (PCT) which we would run on for the next 30 miles. What sweet single track! On a clear day, there would be some nice views of my favorite mountain (Rainier), but during the race it was playing hide and seek behind the clouds. Below is a typical trail view from this section:

I made it to Stampede Pass (mile 33) and my first drop bag around 5:15pm and took a quick break to change socks due to a slight hot spot on my left heel. I picked up my headlamp and a jacket for the coming nightfall and expected cool temperatures. So far everything had been going extremely well--I was eating regularly every 30 minutes or so and staying well hydrated with water and Nuun. I continued on the PCT and eventually climbed up a wall to arrive at Mirror Lake at sunset. Despite a lot of tents/campers, the sunset over the lake was a beautiful way to end the day. I turned on my headlamp around 8:15pm just after I had passed the lake.

My all time favorite food at an aid station came next. I had never heard of pirogi before and have to admit to some hesitation when the crew at the Olallie Meadows aid station offered some. They are a homemade pasta or dumpling with (in this case) a potato filling. Piping hot and served with a cool yogurt sauce on the side, they were a miracle. I had two helpings and then set off for one of the nastier sections of the course. There was a climb up gravel roads to the top of one of the Snoqualmie Pass ski areas at which point the nearly full moon emerged above the mountains across I-90 and made for a beautiful moment to set off bushwhacking down one of the ski runs which was extremely steep with very poor footing. Fortunately we had been forewarned about this section and I just took my time and tried (successfully) not to add to my record number of face plants for the season. After a short road section to cross the highway, I arrived at Hyak aid station (mile 53) about 11 pm. Scotty and Rich were at Hyak and it was great to get their encouragement and be waited on (that was some good hot chocolate Rich!) while changing into a warmer shirt and picking up my gloves and re-stocking gels/food from my drop bag. I had done the first 53 miles in 13 hours for a pace of 14.7 min/mile which was just slightly faster than my goal of 15-16 min/mile.

The next section of the course was probably one of the faster ones for me as it was mostly dirt roads with a moderate uphill for 5-6 miles followed by 6 miles of fast dirt road downhill. I just felt like I was floating down the hill and apparently passed some people I knew without realizing/acknowledging it (sorry Matthew!) I quickly paid the price for a 'easy' section when I started on the next section which is also known as the 'Trail from Hell'. I have to admit I had assumed the difficulties of this section were exaggerated. Well I can now say for certain that they are not exaggerated and in fact for me, are probably understated. I did not just walk all of this section. I literally inched along the route. I can't call it a trail because it wasn't. It started as a bushwhack, but even after there was supposed to be a trail, it was so narrow, washed out, and covered with fallen logs that I can't call it a trail. I mentally fell apart on this section and was passed repeatedly by other runners--all of whom were walking. It definitely didn't help that the course guide said to go 4.6 miles and then turn right onto a real trail. In reality (at least Garmin reality), it was 7 miles until the junction with a real trail. I took advantage of this slow section to use a neat trick that Brandon clued me into--I had brought along a Duracell USB battery which allowed me to re-charge my Garmin 310XT while it was recording the route, thus enabling me to record the entire 100 miler, rather than just the first 18 hours or so that a full charge would cover.

About halfway through the Trail from Hell came one of the harder tests of the course for me. I have to admit that I have a significant case of acrophobia. I discovered this as an adult when I tried to go up the ladder to the roof over the 2nd floor of our house. I made it to the 1st floor roof at which point I became catatonic and could not go up or down for over half an hour. I learned that the acrophobia wasn't limited to ladders when visiting Moran State park on Orcas Island and foolishly trying to walk across a fallen log. I made it halfway across before lying down in the middle as my friends tried to coax me back. Laying in wait for me in my own personal Trail from Hell was a deep gorge with a sheer rock wall on the far side. The route was clearly marked to cross by walking over a conveniently placed fallen log. I'm sure to most people this was perfectly reasonable, but to me this seemed too much to ask. I scouted around on both sides of the log and thought I could cross the gorge/creek, but couldn't see a way to climb up the wall on the far side. I seemed to be stuck with walking across the log. I thought about sitting down and essentially crawling over but there was a large protrusion 2/3 of the way across where a branch had been that was going to be harder to crawl over than walk. I knew that the more hesitant I was in walking across it, the more likely that I was to slip, but rational thought didn't really help. In much less time than it took to prepare to do it, or than to write about it, I walked over and continued on the Trail from Hell.

I had thought that I would reach the Mineral Creek aid station (mile 73) with dread of the 8 mile uphill gravel road section that awaited, but after clambering over and through 7 miles of fallen logs and washed out 'trail', the prospect of smooth gravel road seemed positively delightful! After a quick refueling at the aid station, I headed up. The road was not as steep as I remembered, and after some bouts of sleepiness, I started to alternate running with the walking to stay awake. Sooner than it seemed possible, the moon began to glow much more brightly and before long the sun was coming up. This definitely gave me a new boost of energy and it was a delight to reach the No Name Ridge aid station and see Laura and her crew. I think this is the aid station where they had peach slices which were so ripe and juicy I just couldn't stop eating them. I felt bad for the volunteers here who had clearly frozen in the night as you could still see frost scattered all around the aid station. Next up was a section of repeated steep climbs as you can see in the elevation profile below:

The 5 small peaks at the top don't look that bad on the elevation profile, but believe me they don't call them the cardiac needles for nothing! This section of trail was beautiful and is supposed to have some of the best views along the course, but there was significant fog Sunday morning. Watching the views peep in and out of the fog was made for pretty scenery, but not so much for pictures. I took one shot near sunrise:

The food treat for me upon reaching the French Cabin aid station was bacon. Yum! They say everything goes better with bacon, but in this case the bacon alone was perfect. One more short climb and then it was downhill/flat for the remaining 10 or so miles. The downhill was more technical than I had hoped so I couldn't make particularly good time on this section but I was still running. I made a brief stop at Silver Spring aid station after telling them how happy I was to see them (they were the LAST aid station), and then it was 5 more miles of flat dirt/paved road to the finish. At some point on the dirt road I looked at my watch and realized it might be possible to finish in 25 hours. Why didn't I check this sooner? It was amazing how much motivation this gave me and I went from trotting along at 10-11 min/mile pace to running the last two miles in 8:14 and 7:37 respectively. I finally crossed the line in 25 hours and 37 seconds. Close enough to call it 25 hours, right? I did the final 47 miles in an average pace of 15.3 min/mile compared to 14.7 min/mile for the first 53 miles. So I still don't know how, but I managed to maintain a fairly even pace for the entire course. Rich and Scott were there to congratulate me at the finish and Francine arrived shortly thereafter to take care of me and get me home safely. I was all smiles at the finish as you can see in the photos below:

Finish line photos by Scott Railton. From left to right: with Rich, moments after finishing at the finish line, and soaking my feet in cold water.

Yes, I really ran all night for a belt buckle. I am so skinny now I really need one!

Monday, August 2, 2010

White River 50 miler

Redemption Run. I first did the White River 50 miler in 2007. It was the first ultra I did on the west coast after moving to Seattle from Philadelphia. I was not prepared by the amount of elevation gain in west coast ultras and completely bonked. I had been putting off running the course again until I felt prepared to redeem myself for falling apart the first time. In 2007 I used up all my energy on the first half of the course and barely made it to the first aid station on the 2nd climb, Fawn Ridge, before collapsing in a chair and telling myself I was going to drop. The aid station volunteers encouraged me to keep going, that it was only 5 more miles to the top of the second climb and then there would be 6 miles of downhill. I still remember how intensely I whined to myself, 'You don't understand, I don't want to go downhill anymore than I want to go uphill.' Somehow I eventually decided to keep going and did finish in just over 11 hours.

Skip to 2010. I had wanted to make White River a summer goal race, but with Cascade Crest 100 coming up it seemed more prudent to make it a training run. But in the end I think it was more of a race. The course is made up of two loops, both starting and finishing at the Buck Creek campground off route 410 just north of Mt. Rainier. The course director, Scott McCoubrey was generous enough to organize training runs on the course, both of which I did. Three weeks before the race we ran 25 of the 27 miles in the first loop which took me 5 hours and 15 minutes and reminded me just how tough the climbs are on the course. For me, the course is particularly difficult because most of the climbing is actually runnable. The trail goes up 5,000 feet in the first half, but it is spread out over 6-8 miles. So despite the fact that it is runnable, it is difficult for me to find the right mixture of running and hiking so that I have enough energy to make it through 50 miles. Two weeks before the race we ran the 23 miles making up the second loop which made it clear that the second half is easier than the first half--at least when run separately. It clearly wouldn't feel that way when doing the second loop after the first loop on race day! The practice run on the second half took me about 4 hours and 15 minutes. So going into the race, I was hoping to break 10 hours but not thinking it was really possible given the amount of climbing on the course and the times I had done on the practice runs.

Course map from my Garmin recording of the race. The first loop is on the right side of the road (with an out and back section) and the second loop is on the left side of the road.

We drove down on Friday afternoon and checked into the hotel on Crystal Mountain. I checked in and got my lucky number #24 which I had requested and then we went to the pasta dinner and met up with BJ and Erica and met some runners as well. It was a shock halfway through dinner to look out the window and see Anton Krupicka who had not been on the entrants list, but who set the course record in 2009 and would be the clear favorite to win again this year. Scott McCoubrey showed a video about the race and gave a lengthy description of the course before we took off for an early bedtime.

Saturday morning came all too soon and the temperature was about 50 degrees as we made our way to the starting line for the 6:30am start. I left a drop bag for the halfway point and got back in the car to stay warm until starting time.

Me at the starting line.

The starting line.

Video of the start.

I had decided to go out fast for the first 4-5 miles which are flat to avoid getting too backed up in a train of runners when the uphill started, but wanted to back off a bit on the first steep section up the stairs to try not to burn up all my energy on the first half climbing. It was a gorgeous day and fortunately not as hot as it often gets this time of year and despite the fact that I started sweating within the first mile, I felt comfortable at the fast initial pace and was prepared for the long slog from the Camp Shepard aid station at mile 3.9 to the Ranger Creek station at mile 11.7. The beautiful views of Mt. Rainier that periodically jumped out when there were gaps between the trees made the climb more enjoyable.

View of Mt. Rainier from the first half of the course (actually taken during the training run).

View of the airstrip at the start/finish from the ridge line during the first half of the course.

Fortunately the training run had reminded me that there is significantly more climbing after Ranger Creek before hitting the relatively flat ridge section leading to the turnaround. I was surprised on one of the switchbacks in this section by the site of someone (later learned it was Adam Campbell) followed by Anton leading the race back the other way. The next 3 or 4 miles was punctuated by jumping off the trail to make room for the leaders while cheering them on. I got to Corral Pass at about 3 hours and 10 minutes and grabbed a section of peanut butter/jelly sandwich and banana and headed back towards Ranger Creek. About 2 miles before Ranger Creek the trail finally starts an extended downhill section which continues all the way to the Buck Creek aid station back at the start/finish area. It definitely felt good to be going downhill. A week before the race I had taken a hard fall on a training run, cutting open my knee, forearm and bruising my wrist. So I was definitely keeping totally focused on the trail during the downhill section which although relatively smooth, had plenty of opportunities for additional face plants. I refused to let myself look at my Garmin watch throughout the entire downhill to avoid distractions.

It was a great relief to arrive at Buck Creek still feeling relatively good, and I was surprised to reach this point at only 5 hours into the race. I quickly picked up my hat and some more gels from my drop bag and then got a great pick up from chatting with Scotty at the aid station. He took this picture of me below:

Looking happy before the pain of the second loop. Photo by Scotty Railton.

I grabbed some more food and headed towards the suntop trail and was greatly embarrassed to fall flat on my face about 100 yards past the aid station. Hopefully no one saw me and I was none the worse for the tumble although my banana section was now covered with dirt. I started the climb towards Fawn Ridge and probably made an error here. I pushed hard to run some of the uphill sections alternating with hiking and by the time I got to Fawn Ridge the wheels were getting loose. They hadn't fallen off as in 2007, but I was reduced to hiking the remainder of the uphill sections to suntop--definitely running out of gas compared to the practice run on the second half of the course. And starting at Fawn Ridge my stomach sort of shut down. I tried to eat some grapes there but ended up throwing them away.

The remainder of the climb to Sun Top went slowly but it sure felt good to cross the road and know that there was only a short climb left to the top! Glen Tachiyama was just below the summit shooting photos with Rainier in the background and I managed to break into a trot for the camera. I grabbed some potatoes/salt at the aid station and then relaxed into the long down hill. I left Sun Top at 7 and a half hours into the race, so I thought my goal of finishing in under 10 hours was still intact. The 6.5 miles down the dirt road are the best opportunity to gain some time on the course and I just tried to keep my legs and hips relaxed and swinging freely to channel the gravity. I averaged 7:45 minute miles down the hill which felt great. I generally have a strong preference for single track over dirt road, but at this point in the race the downhill on a road could not be beat!

The last six miles on the Skookum flats trail along the river is actually one of the nicest sections of trail on the course which was proved to us at the second training run when we started with fresh legs on this section. However, it is the most technical section of the course with lots of roots, rocks and short ups/downs with a net elevation gain as you run upriver. It is definitely a struggle to keep running through this section at the end of the race but it was comforting to know the finish line was the next stop and when a nice person on the trail told me I had less than a mile left, it definitely put some more life back into my legs. Francine and Scott were there to cheer me on at the finish line and I was so happy to be done! I finished in 9hr39min beating my previous time by over an hour. I wanted to go sit and soak my legs in the river, but ended up being too tired to find a nearby place to climb down. We sat and watched other finishers, cheered for the winners at the awards and filled up on barbecue before heading home to Seattle.

Approaching the finish line. Photo by John Wallace.

With Francine at the finish. Photo by Scotty Railton.

Some numbers:
Overall pace: 11.6 min/mile
Total time not moving: 9 minutes--don't think I could do 8 aid stations any faster than that!
Pace over the first 27 miles: 11.1 min/mile
Pace over the last 23 miles: 12.1 min/mile

Final thoughts:
I love running through the wilderness and prefer to pace myself so that I can enjoy the surroundings. White River is a beautiful course but it is a serious challenge for me. This year I think I went out a bit too fast at the expense of suffering through the last third of the course, but I was pleased with my time and when I finish a race without any low spells I wonder how much faster I could have pushed it. This is a great race which I heartily recommend. The race is well organized, course well marked and it has a very laid back atmosphere considering that it is the national championship race.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dancing with whip-poor-wills: May 15th, 2010

On May 3rd, I received the email with the happy subject, “MMT -- You are in!” Despite running ultras for almost a decade, I had been very slow to tackle the 100 mile distance. I first became aware of the Massanutten Mountain 100 event when Ultrarunnergirl was tweeting updates on the race last year. After suffering through the last 15 miles of Where’s Waldo 100K last August to the refrain of “I’m not going to do a hundred”, I entered the lottery to get into MMT on November 30th. I proceeded to up my mileage significantly starting in December-January, and despite only achieving one 100 mile week, I ran between 50-70 miles 3 weeks out of 4 and ran an ultra every month from January through April. The only problem was that the MMT 100 miler is very popular and awards entries through a lottery which I had not won. Starting in December, I was ~70th on the waiting list for a starting field of 180 and by March had not moved very many places. Convinced that I would not get into MMT, I signed up for the Jemez 50 miler in Los Alamos, New Mexico the week following MMT.

So on May 3rd when I got the email, I was actually torn as to whether I should do MMT or do the Jemez 50 especially since I had already booked flights/hotels for the trip to New Mexico, but had not made any travel preparations for MMT. But then I realized I was the last person to move from the wait list into the race. It was FATE. I HAD to do this race. After all, I had done 50 milers previously, but all my training for the last 5 months was focused on attempting my first 100. So I booked a last minute flight from Seattle, and tried to wrap my head around the course.

The race proceeds clockwise around the Massanutten Mountain ring in the Shenandoah valley which was a homecoming of sorts for me since I grew up in Virginia hiking on the nearby Appalachian Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The course is known for rocks and repeated climbs. Compared to the west coast ultras I have done, there were many more climbs, albeit shorter ones. Pretty much every aid station was located down off the mountain ridge, which meant every time you left an aid station, you had a big climb! I had no idea how to pace myself over this kind of course so after consulting more experienced 100 mile runners, I decided to take it as easy as possible for the first 20 miles with regular walking breaks for food and liquid intake at least every half hour. Then if I felt good, I would run more consistently but without racing.

The race started promptly at 5am (you can barely see me with the red baseball cap in the photo below at the start) with a 3 mile gradual uphill on a road. It would have been easy to run or even attack this section but I stuck to my strategy of incorporating walking and taking it easy. Keith Dunn was at the 3.1 mile aid station where I refilled my water bottles and headed onto the first section of single track. Despite the rocks and the climb up Short Mountain, it felt great to be on single track.
Photo by Bobby Gill

At Woodstock aid station I congratulated Mark McKennett on his impressive MMT haircut and headed out for the first (only) section between aid stations without a significant climb. Somewhere around this point I got to meet Susan Donnelly as she swept easily past me and offered some tips for my first 100. I did not see her again until the finish line and am looking forward to reading her race report. My first drop bag was at Elizabeth Furnace and I re-stocked on GUs and Nuun and went on. So far I had been very happy with my fueling, having managed to eat a GU or half a Lara bar every 30 minutes. For the first time at this ultra, I decided not to force myself to eat breakfast and I think that worked out well. I had a snack instead of a whole breakfast, but then started fueling every 30 minutes from the very beginning. Having no idea what pace I would maintain during the race, I had written out splits for 36 hours (cutoff pace, and my primary goal of finishing), 32 hours (wishful thinking) and 28 hours (fantasyland). Since I was in the Stonewall Jackson division (no crew or pacer) I had placed my headlamp in the drop bag at Veach Gap since the cutoff here was 8pm. I reached Veach gap around 3pm which made me realize I was way ahead of schedule. I never actually did look at any of the splits which I had written down. I also started my Garmin 310XT at this aid station since its battery life is around 18 hours and I had decided I would rather be able to track mileage at the end of the race rather than the beginning. Ultrarunnergirl was helping out at Veach gap and it was nice to meet the person responsible for so many fun running tweets.

I got to Camp Roosevelt just as it was getting dark and spent a fair bit of time with my drop bagging changing shirt, shoes/socks, and hydration system (from fuel belt to hydration pack). A couple of quesadillas hit the spot and I was off to climb the next hill. Reaching Gap Creek for the first time led to the worst section of the race for me. As with almost every aid station, a substantial climb followed, but this one never seemed to reach a somewhat level or runnable ridge top the way most sections had. In addition my stomach felt a little off for the first time. I was moving so slowly that I was falling asleep on my feet and it is surprising that the rocks (particularly abundant in this section) did not exact their revenge on me. I was surprised to find several runners sitting or lying by the side of the trail in this section. Maybe naps are more common than I realized in 100 mile events. Finally the trail started down and the ability to really run got me awake again.

I begin drinking Coke at all the aid stations after this in an attempt to stay awake. A brief rain shower around 3:30am helped wake me up as well. Much sooner than I would have expected, light begin creeping across the landscape which led to the dance of the whip-poor-wills. I still had my headlight on and two orange eyes gleamed out at me from the trail. The size of the creature seemed too small for the eyes, and as I approached, the creature dispersed as two whip-poor-wills flew a short distance away only to land in the path and stare me down again. This continued for quite some time and I can only think they were having fun playing with the light from my headlamp but whatever the cause, it seemed like a good omen to have them dancing with me down the trail.

When I had reviewed the information about the course on the web site, I had been a little put off when I noticed that 18 miles were on dirt roads. By this point in the course, however, I was rejoicing every time a dirt road appeared since there would be no Massanutten rocks to avoid and I could actually run! I was surprised to still be running at this point in the race and am still not sure how I maintained good energy throughout this race. Whether it was training, starting out easy, eating/hydrating well, or all combined I was just grateful. And already scared that I won’t find this magic combination at subsequent events!

I returned to Gap Creek for the second time and was too stoked by reaching the last aid station to even stop. After a steep climb and rocky trail descent that reduced me to more or less walking, the trail evened out a bit and I was able to run before finally the trail emptied out on a downhill road section where I ran the fastest 2-3 miles of the event before reaching the final 0.8 miles of trail which included a final uphill section. By this point I was so delirious that I even ran the uphill section. I could taste the finish! Ultrajumper was at the finish line to capture this happy picture and I was done! The eggs at the finish line were some of the best I ever had and a nice person even gave me a ride back to my car to save some of the 0.8 mile walk.
Photo by Bobby Gill

First 40 miles pace: 14.6 min/mile
Middle 30 miles pace: 16.9 min/mile
Final 30 miles pace: 17.8 min/mile

As you can tell from the race report, this event could have been a tweet-up, as I met many people who I had previously only known through twitter. The course marking was incredible as I usually get off-course at least once, but I never had any problems following this course. The volunteers and race staff really know how to put on a great event and I hope to run MMT again one of these days.

Other race reports:

Olga Varlamova's report

Brittany Zales report on volunteering at Camp Roosevelt