Burning River 100 July 31, 2011 was a tremendous accomplishment. I started that race injured, did not tolerate the heat, had extreme electrolytes issue and still finished. I was very beat up physically, though. It took me a month afterwards to run at all and several months to begin to feel like I was recovered. I knew that if I was healthy and smart, that I could finish another 100 miler and do well and wanted to tackle another one. I can’t really say why I chose MMT or what gave me the courage to sign up for the lottery, but for some crazy reason, I did! I am not a great technical trail runner and really don’t enjoy running on really rocky trails. I wouldn’t say that I am a great climber/hiker, either! MMT was in no way a course that played toward my running strengths, so logically…..I chose this one!My friend, Joe, who trained and ran BR with me didn’t even hesitate and he put his name in the lottery, too. Well, I probably won’t get in, anyway, I thought. So, I am headed to work one morning and see an email from Joe that says “WE’RE IN”. Are you serious? I never win anything and was already thinking of an alternative race. So, now I get congratulations from Rande and Kari who are veteran MMT runners. They are local runners and friends who run MMT every year and they were very positive and encouraged us throughout our training.
I guess I better start training. I have a great running group and a super ultrarunner husband and they all supported us in many long training runs, climbing the pipeline at Rocky Gap , and running on as many rocky trails as we could. I stayed healthy and avoided any major, lingering injuries and felt good leading up to MMT.
The atmosphere at the start of the race felt a little tense to me. All the runners who enter the lottery have to be experienced. They must have completed a qualifying hundred or 2- 50 milers. So, none of these runners were new to the sport. I could feel the nervous tension of the runners and their anticipation of how tough this course will be. I was thinking to myself, “now come on…how hard can this course really be?” (keep reading for the answer )
We woke at 2:22 am and left the hotel at 3am. I didn’t sleep well that night and hadn’t slept well in the preceding weeks leading up to the race. Work had been very busy and our three wonderful and active daughters have been super busy with activities. I was hoping that it wouldn’t matter so much, but I was a little worried going into an all-night race already feeling fatigued. Jason drove Joe and me to the start. The weather was going to be great (maybe a little warm), I was healthy and well trained, so I had no excuse, but to have a good day!
Soon after this, we are on one of the few road sections (uphill…just to make sure it wasn’t too easy) and Joe and I see a snake….a rattlesnake!!! Cool, I thought. It was coiled up trying to get warm, I assume. You could see the rattle part of the tail sticking up through the center of the coil. I pulled out my phone to grab a picture. As I went closer, Joe yelled at me to not get any closer. I think that he thought that I must have lost my mind already…..well, maybe I had!!!
I started to feel a little tired already at 20, but by 25 I was moving great and feeling good again. Joe and I pulled into the 33 mile aid station where Jason and Todd were waiting. They looked concerned that it took so long to do a 50k. Yep, that was the slowest 50k of my life…at least until I did the next 2 50k’s!
I started to feel really bad as soon as I pulled into Elizabeth furnace. I even walked over to the weeds to puke, but nothing happened. I just walked out with a little food and hoped that I would feel better soon. And, I did! I felt the best that I had felt all day and came into Shawl Gap (38 miles) with a smile on my face and my color had returned.
Joe and I walked out of the aid station with some food and moved on toward Habron. We had been warned how long and tough this section would be, but I was feeling good……and then crashed again HARD! I The climb seemed to take more effort than it should, my chest felt heavy and I couldn’t get a deep breath. My legs were toast. I finally made it to the top and realized that the ridgeline was barely a trail and was so hard to walk, let alone run! There was never a flat spot to place your foot so every step was done on an angle. The negative thoughts began to seep into my mind. NEVER have I let this happen to this degree, but they just swarmed in….”I am not good on this type of course, I should have never signed up, I should be home with my kids since it is Mother’s Day weekend, my body cannot tolerate another 58 miles of this course, I am mentally drained, I am already tired and I was not rested before the start, I hope that Joe doesn’t wait for me because I am dropping!” I had never felt this mentally defeated. My body has suffered worse, but my mind was not tolerating this course. I was never able to let my mind rest. The course requires constant concentration to navigate the rocks. If you lose concentration, you could fall and get hurt really bad. In fact, it was in this section that I lost my balance on a steep cliff area and nearly fell in a dangerous spot. I wanted to cry, but didn’t want anyone to see me so defeated at such an early stage of the race. I sent Jason a text that simply said “Dropping”. I knew that he would be shocked, but I wanted him to know that I was serious and not to get ready to run with me at mile 52. He could just start packing up the car and we could go home and sleep. Finally, the trail started to head downhill toward the aid station (no crew access). It was bittersweet as the trail was more like a ravine with horrible footing and jagged rocks. My forefoot was already tender and possibly blistered and the downhill was not a relief. I made it to the aid station and had told a few fellow runners that I thought that I may drop, but didn’t do it officially. One runner was very encouraging and told me to think of four reasons NOT to drop. I didn’t care at the point. I had 10 reasons to drop, but I guess I was not ready to make it official. I was able to eat a few strawberries and headed out on a short road section where I would see Jason and our crew. Thank goodness that Joe didn’t wait and he was already on his way to the crew.
So, Jason (my husband) would be pacing me and Joe had Shauna (his wife), and friends Mary Beth and Todd who would all be pacing at various stages. Matt was the designated driver and crew chief to hold it all together. Jason headed out about a mile on the dirt road to see where I was and try to find me. Cell reception is horrible and often non-existent, so Jason had no idea if I had dropped or my condition. He met me and could see that I was struggling and felt defeated. He told me that several very strong runners were really struggling and somehow that helped me to realize that It just wasn’t just me who was having a rough time on this tremendously tough course. I sat down and tended to my hot spot, changed socks, switched to my camelbak, ate a little, and listened to the encouragement from our wonderful friends and Jason, and started walking out ready to start the next climb. I was still very unsure if I would be continuing past the next aid station.
Jason and I climbed well and reached the top with less effort than my previous climb. Jason called my best friend, Tina, to let her know our status, and we were able to actually run some and make some progress. I even started to feel hungry. A whip-poor-will seemed to follow us for miles, exhorting us to press on with his beautiful call. We pulled into Camp Roosevelt, and I had a smile and an appetite. Quesadillas sounded good. Ok, so my spirits were up. I was not going to finish with a great time, but I thought that now “I can do this!”
Every section after this point was just very rough. I don’t remember details as many runners do, but I remember thinking that there had to be an easy section and it just never came. There were 2 short road sections that I ran hard just because I could I finally run. I remember that each mile toward the aid stations seemed longer and longer. I remember Kern’s mountain at night being so difficult to walk and thinking how in world would someone run this??? I remember the millipedes at night and yelling several times when I touched one while grabbing a rock or tree for assistance while climbing. I remember Jason stopping to ask a woman in the ditch on the side of the road if she was OK, and she said that she was just trying to take a nap! One of my goals was to crest Bird Knob before sunrise, and I did, enjoying the beautiful view in the pre-dawn light. My crew was there at every opportunity, helping me, feeding me, and urging us on, their support was incredible!
The last ten miles were really tough. I could feel that the skin had separated on the bottom of my feet and every step was painful. The downhills and rocks were very tough on them. I was wincing at times and still held back the tears. We finally made it to the last aid station with only 7 miles to go. Of course this had to start with a 2 mile mega climb until we got to the pie plate to signify that we were headed down! Finally a downhill…… well, poop!!! This was a 2 mile rock garden where every step was a struggle due to inactive quads and wounded feet.
Once we hit the road, I ran. I ran the entire road! I am a better runner than hiker and I just kept on running! I hit the field to the cheers of my friends and earlier finishers. Kari was so emotional and crying when I finished! She knew how hard it had been and every one of the finishers of this race share the difficulty and struggle that it takes to complete the course. Joe had already finished and had bandaged his feet. Our crew was there waiting and I know that they were so tired and ready to go home, but they didn’t. They waited like only wonderful friends would do.
Jason was there for me for 52 miles. That is a lot to ask of a pacer! He kept me going as only he could do! That was our “quality” time! Thank you, Jason! Love you!
It was Mother’s Day, but there was no signal at base camp so we had to wait until we got on the road to call home. I hobbled in the shower and went to the awards where we received our buckles and Rande and Kari received their special awards…Rande for going under 24 hours(not human) and Kari for 5 (now 6) time finisher!
I really can’t believe this course and after being out there, I will forever say MMT with a different tone. I am not mad at the course. I am humbled by it and have a new respect for those who attempt it.
Jason and I have talked about this race almost constantly for the last week. As a pacer, he describes the experience as spiritual and I have to agree! Something out in the Massanutten Mountains seems to get into your soul and changes you…..I guess that answers my question to Kari and Rande immediately after the race “Why in the world do you do this year after your year?” And, I may have called them “crazy” a few times, too!
So, to my encourager at the Indian Grave Aid Station….my four reasons to stay in the race: 1) To be a strong role model for my three daughters, 2) To celebrate the hours of training spent with Jason and all of my great friends, 3) To push my body farther than I think it can go ( I guess I did sign up for this!), and 4) To forever know what brings runners to the Massanutten Mountains and have the experience engraved in your soul. In all seriousness, I just dig the belt buckle!!!!