Friday, September 10, 2010

Massanutten Ring...what a difference a pace makes!


This one surprised me...it surprised Deb! We went down to Virginia to run the annual MMT Ring for the 2nd time and our plan was to enjoy ourselves, follow a (my) low heart rate of sub 135, which is between 60 and 65% of my max...in other words really low, which means slow. We did that and although it was a very comfortable pace, we ended up tying for first place in 21:14, an hour off of our best that we ran back in 2003.

Back to the Ring and what it is....it is basically the complete Massanutten trail that is used for the 100 mile race, minus the road sections to some of the aid stations. Plus we get to do some trail that isn't run in the 100. The Ring is 71 miles of rocky, hilly trails. It began in 2002 by Anstr Davidson and Chris Scott, who were the first to do the complete Ring of the Massanuttens. Several years later the RD baton was handed over to Mike Bur and Quatro Hubbard. To see the whole story, go to the website for that.

 Deb is ready!

We gathered at the Signal Knob parking lot for the start at 7am and with a "go" and some accordion music, off we went into the Massanutten mountains for at least the next full day...or that was the plan. The best we had hoped would be to run under 24 hours, which is still a great time at the Ring. Of course before we could start up the trail Deb had to warm up by dancing to the accordion...this wasn't a serious event for us, after all, it was meant to be fun! We started the run in dead last after this...


video
Deb had great fun warming up for the Ring


After Deb's dance and after sending some runners off in the right direction, we started hiking up the trail. I spent most of the day glancing at my watch to keep the effort below 135, but didn't miss the views and birds up on the ridge. I really don't remember much of the day other than the great aid stations.

 Only a few miles in, our Horton shot with our friend the orange blaze

The first official aid station isn't until mile 25 at Camp Roosevelt, but we had a earlier aid station set up at Milford Gap, thanks to the 2 great guys who brought all that food and drink up on the ridge. Also this aid station was called the "top off" aid station and was just to top off your bottles or bladders. We had planned on this being an unmanned aid station and were going to take our shirts off and take a picture (Deb would wear her Nathan Hydration pack with the front pouches carefully placed) but when we got there and saw the two volunteers and about 6 runners there grazing, we decided not to. Coming into it, we had passed 7 runners and there were 6 more in the aid station that we soon went by after the stop. Here we filled our bottles and grabbed some Oreo cookies and continued up the trail. This was fun! The weather helped, also....it may have been nearing 80 degrees, but it was not humid and the sunshine all day felt great! On to Camp Roosevelt...

 One of the many great views we saw in this section

 The Shenandoah River as seen from the Massanutten Ridge
 
This stretch passed by quite event-less and as in the 100, I was looking for the Stephen's Trail off to the right down to Camp Roosevelt. When we did finally reach it, the trail in front of us was blocked by horses and their riders. I instinctively started to go right down the Stephen's, but Deb corrected me saying we stay straight towards the orange blaze. The one rule was to always follow orange, but it's easy to get confused if you know the 100 mile course heads down here. One of the riders showed me his map, showing that the MMT trail does, in fact also go to Camp Roosevelt. Some of the runners took the Stephen's trail down and were DQ'd. So on we went, passing a couple of other runners just as we reached the road into Camp Roosevelt. We felt great and couldn't believe how easy this all felt! It's all about the pace!

 Camp Roosevelt aid station, mile 25

In CR, we ate and drank heartily (well, as vegetarians we didn't eat the meat sandwiches). I ate a banana and a handful of Fig Newtons and a couple of cups of Cola and headed out within 15 minutes. Next up is Crisman Hollow Rd aid!

 No, Deb wasn't fueling with Gatorade....
...at Crisman Hollow aid station, mile 34.3

Somewhere in here we did Waterfall Mountain, which was tough. It was steep, long and it was getting hot. Behind me I had David Snipes yelling out " What's your heart rate now, Steve?" I'd yell back that it was 129 or 133. Once we reached the top, David took off, but I wanted to stay the course so we decided to just stay relaxed after the climb...

I don't remember much about Crisman Hollow, we didn't spend a lot of time there and I seem to remember eating a banana and some cookies, washed down with some cola, filled up my bottles with water and headed out. Next up was Moreland Gap, which was one of my favorties because of the fruit!

Moreland Gap aid station, mile 40.7

Soon we were in Moreland and caught up to Zsuzanna Carlson, who was leading the woman's race, but ended up with a tendon injury in her ankle/foot and had to stop. Here we again ate up and caught up to Paul Crickard and David Snipes and his merry band of followers. We would see a lot of these runners the rest of the run. Here I again had a banana and some cookies and Vicki Kendall, who fell on some rocks and busted up her knees, gave me some yummy bean dip with chips. What's this? I'm eating food in the Massanuttens? Usually I'm baaaarfing! In Moreland I was happy to see lots of fruit on the table, so I gorged myself on watermelon, grapes and whatever else I could find because I knew coming up was the Short Mountain section.The climbs, twisting and turning around the knobs on the ridge and the rocks of the Short Mountain section, notorious for bringing runners to their knees in the 100. We just stayed the course or heart rate and we knew that this section it would be getting dark on us, so I was planning on dropping the HR  transmitter at the next one, which is Edinburgh Gap, so on we go!

 Sunset from the Short Mountain ridge

Deb having some corn chowdah at Edinburgh Gap, mile 48.7

Reaching Edinburgh Gap at night was nice because they had some really good corn chowder there, which was a necessity because up next is the Powell ridge, another section like the Short mountain section. So here we sat for the first time all day, had two cups of soup, filled one of our bottles with cola, grabbed a 5 hour energy (that we never needed) and headed out. This section seemed to go on and on and unlike at the 100, we had no glow sticks to help guide our way. We had to keep looking for the orange blazes to be sure we were always on course. Soon we heard voices and to the left saw the aid station. Now I just wanted to get this thing done, so just grabbed my bottle, filled it with Coke and made sure to drink a whole bottle before refilling it and moving onto the next aid station...the final one, Powell's Fort! As I yelled to Deb that we had to get going, Snipes jumped up to continue with us. We somehow lost Paul, but knew he'd be back....he always seemed to pass us on each section like we were standing still. Snipes on the other hand, either got in the aid stations just ahead of or just behind us, so we always seems to be close by. It felt like a race...On to Powell's...

 Eva Pastlkova solos the late night Powell's Fort aid station, mile 62.7

On this section between Woodstock and Powell's Fort, it is an easy section. Some uphills, but mostly a nice downhill on mostly runnable trail. Brittany, one of David's followers, was losing her voice and having breathing difficulties, so David feeling responsible for her, waited and we got into Powell's ahead of him and Paul. We filled up with cola again and just kept going, saying hi to Eva before doing so. It was quite cold at the aid station, so on our way out Deb stopped to put on her long sleeve shirt, I stayed in my short sleeve even though I was cold, too. We jogged and walked the road until coming to the trail section to the left. We were commenting to each other about how many miss this and don't even realize it because you come back out on the road again up near the top. We headed up the trail and saw lights coming on us as we stopped to take some prophylactic Tylenol in prep for the Signal knob rocks that nearly killed us in 2003. While we did this, David, Paul and David's pacer, Cory caught up to us and that was how it stayed to the finish. At the top on the outlook trail, we took a short break and looked at the fantastic view of the city lights below....it was magical.  I wish I had taken a photo of this view. But without wasting much more time, we started down.

My light died not far from the top, so I stopped and got out my backup and while doing so they got a bit ahead of me...but I ran to catch them and did very quickly and made mention of that and the fact that we could possibly get in under 21 hours if we worked through the rocks a little bit. We then started discussing times, etc. and just settled in to a fast walk/jog down to the finish. I was yelling out at David that the only reason he worked so hard to stay with us was that he didn't want to get chicked by a 57 year old woman. He yelled back that if he was going to get chicked, he would want it to be Deb...so when we got to the finish line, he pushed Deb ahead of him. Little did he know that what he did was make Deb the first "official" runner to cross the line.

 Cory, David, Deb, Steve and Paul
1st place

Unfortunately for Jim Harris, Cam Baker and Keith Moore, they missed the turn onto the trail going up to Signal Knob...but they still finished the Ring, although unofficially. When we finished, Quatro told us we were tied for 4th with Deb being the first female finisher. That was better than we could have ever hoped for, considering how easy we were planning on doing this. The next morning at Portobello he got an email from Mike Bur that Jim and Cam were dq'd for missing that critical turn, then on the drive home on Monday we received a text message from Quatro that Keith Moore had also missed that turn. So we actually went from last to first! So one of my mantras when doing ultras is to always keep moving because "You just never know", worked in our favor...but we know that some fine runners did in fact finish in front of us...and behind us!

So that's it, probably my most enjoyable event of the year. I not only got to spend over 21 hours with Deb, but a whole weekend with some of my best friends in the world. When we were leaving Portobello on Monday morning for the drive home, Deb mentioned that these freinds are more family than our family is....that's the VHTRC, who we have been a member of for all of the 2000's after coming and running the MMT 100 and finding these great folks.

I want to thank Quatro Hubbard and Mike Bur for putting up with us all weekend and Kerry for her hospitality at Portobello. I also want to thank the many volunteers at the aid stations and the many running friends we shared the trail with that day.

So we started last and ended up first...what a great weekend. We now feel ready for the Bear 100, which is in 3 weeks!

As I always do, here is the list of what got me through this event...
Shoes: LaSportiva Imogenes
Socks: Drymax Trail Lite
Pack: Nathan 2 bottle waist pack
Fuel: Some EFS Liquid Shot, lots of Coke, several bananas, grapes, watermelon and many cookies.
Hydration: Water and Coke

To see the rest of my photos, go here:  http://picasaweb.google.com/ultrastevep/2010Ring#
To see the results, go here: http://www.vhtrc.org/results/ring10.htm

As I said, up next is the final big event of the year, the Bear 100 on Sept 24th.
Until the next post,
Steve