The Massanutten Ring
September 3-4, 2011
I had absolutely no business even attempting this run. My ankle was tender and I hadn't made it through a long run in over two years. My 100 mile attempts had come up short since 2008. I should have just accepted my fate as a 50k to 40 mile runner...but I still had the bug.
I spent the night in Front Royal, just 15 minutes from the start. I only knew a couple of the runners but a fair number of the volunteers. There was essentially a one to one ratio between volunteers and runners. Past initiates into the Fellowship of the Ring did most of the volunteering so they knew precisely what we had signed up for and what hell we'd be put through.
I was familiar with much of the Massanutten Trail and would soon get to experience the remainder. I figured the Ring would be easier than the MMT 100. I'm not so sure anymore. There is less climbing on the Ring (~14,000 vs. 19,000) but that doesn't tell the entire story. The rocks and boulders are relentless. The trail is an absolute challenge just to follow at night. The tedious nature of constantly searching for the trail is mentally exhaustive. 32 runners started. Many would fall victim the trail's nightmarish rock, boulders, heat and humidity. The forecast was for humidity and 93--yikes!
We started up the wrong way, promptly turned around and went in the right direction. Stay on orange is what we were told, otherwise, we were all on our own. The first mile is a gentle grade with more dirt than rock. There wouldn't be too many more miles like this. Another wrong turn was made by a long line of runners. I looked at the right direction but it wasn't properly marked so I followed. everyone turned around and I found myself at the front, where I really don't want to be heading into a 1500 foot climb.
This climb almost destroyed me at MMT100 in May, but was also a great triumph for me at MMT100 in 2007. It was the final climb in the 102 mile race where I moved up from #50 to finish at #43. This climb treated me well again. I took my time and stayed close to the group. I knew I was nearly last by the top but that mattered little as I passed a several runners on the levels and descents.
Rock, rock, rock was the order of the day--an appetizer of gravel, a salad of stones; a boulder and roots for the main course and a dessert of rock candy
I cruised along and hit a nice downhill. This is where I shine and today was no different. I put some space between myself and the group behind me. They quickly caught up as the trail turned into an old road bed with large gravel, of which I'm none too impressed.
Most everyone passed me up on the second climb. I moved along fairly well and was not concerned. At the top of the ridge it becomes a rockercoaster of bunny hops and I galloped like a gazzelle. One part sends you off the ridge where it really gets a bit hairy. One slip and down about 50 yards you go. I took it easy on this, especially since I tweaked my Achilles here once before.
The trail hits the ridge again and soon the first aid station is encountered. Several runners were still milling around. i loaded up and headed out. 13 miles down in 4:02.
I expected things to get easier from here. They did not. The climbing on the ridge was far more substantial than I'd anticipated. The heat was getting to me and I was forced to crawl up the hills.
The last runner caught me and passed me well before Kennedy Peak. We played cat and mouse for the next several miles. Kennedy Peak nearly broke me due to the heat. I told myself to hang on until the night. It might finally cool off.
The descent to the second aid station was gradual on an old road bed. The trail then turned into single track I went ahead of Mark, and cruised into the aid station. 25 miles down in 8:10.
The next section was marked with bugs, bugs and more bugs. Gnats swarmed me most of the way up the four mile climb. It wasn't steep but it went on forever. The heat was still beating me down. I grudgingly continued, thinking that I'd be done at the next aid. The top of the ridge couldn't come quickly enough. I started to move with more hast down the other side but as soon as my momentum got going I had to take a left and climb some more.
I entered into a cove which was wet and slick. I stumbled and slid down a ways and then heard Mark ahead of me. I sped past and then really started moving well. Down I went until the bottom of Waterfall, where I caught Miranda. Waterfall is a half mile climb which rises 950 feet. It's almost like climbing the steps of a skyscraper. I quit no less than three times on this climb. Everyone passed me yet again and I was beat by the time I made it to the top. There's an easy half mile from there to the aid station--a good thing as I likely would have dropped if it had been right at the top.
I changed shoes into a more rugged pair. I knew what was to come and it wasn't pretty, plus nightfall was just a short while away. 34 miles in 12:02.
Kerns Mountain doesn't have any big climbs but it does have the highest concentration of rocks I'd ever encountered in my life. The trail starts out easy but doesn't stay that way. It soon becomes rocky and begins a neverending ascent and descent of the ridge. It undulates on either side for a while and then climbs to the other side, teasing and mocking you like the masochist you are.
I went ahead of Miranda and into the darkness. Others had chosen to stay at the the aid station and tend to their wounds, be they physical or bruised ego. The trail became more difficult to follow. It vanished in some spots, awash in a sea of rocks, all possible routes appearing equally feasible.
I saw a bright light ahead and knew it had to be Mark. I soon caught him and swiftly moved past. He was struggling to find the trail in the dark even with a super bright headlamp. I had to keep moving or I could face possible cutoff time issues. Getting stopped for a cutoff on this race was not an option for me. I floated on down over the rocks until the next intersection. It did't get much easier here except that I now had gravity on my side. I was soon stumbling more frequently but felt strong as I made my way to the aid station. I got word that Miranda had dropped up on the ridge and would be possibly hours until she made it down. Mark was nowhere to be seen. I assumed no one behind me would continue. 40 miles in 13:44.
Short Mountain was up next. This has a ferocious reputation but I have never been bothered by it, in fact I rather enjoy it. The first mile is easy and the climb isn't all that bad either. It has much in common with Kerns but has much more dirt so you're not on rocks the entire time. It also goes up and over repeatedly for a couple of miles but then eases into a fairly normal, rocky trail. I made good time the entire way.
The descent off Short carries on a bit too long but at least it moves well. Upon coming out to the road, I saw another runner, Mike. He was lost so I straightened him out and we headed to the aid station. Mike didn't continue and I was all alone again. 48 miles in 17:50.
The climb from Edinburg starts gradually, then gets steeper and proceeds over a couple of false summits. It wasn't as taxing as I'd expected. The cooler night air certainly helped in that regard. There was much more over the top action on this segment. The trail stayed below the ridge for longer periods. The terrain was less rocky than the two previous sections but there was still much more rock than there was dirt.
On a descent, I passed up a guy named Jeff, who was plodding along very slowly. I scurried past and continued into the endless void of rock and darkness. Two side trails came and went. an owl's eyes shone in the dark. A snake startled me. It appeared to be a copperhead but on closer examination I concluded it was not poisonous. Just a bit more to go. Finally, the old landslide opening on the left appeared. I admired the unobstructed view into the valley and the lights from the towns. Two hundred more yards and Woodstock Tower. 56 miles in 21:27.
The humidity was bad all day and night. This led to an unimaginable ultra funk. This funk seeps into every race but it reared its ugly head early on at the Ring...and it kept getting worse. I actually offended myself. I can't imagine how the volunteers felt.
The shortest section on the course awaited me. I was still alone but didn't have to be concerned with a big climb. This part consisted of more over the ridge and back running/hiking. I changed shorts since chafing was becoming annoying and changed back in a half mile as the other shorts just made issues worse. The night was getting to me and I became sleepy but kept on moving at a decidedly slower pace. The trail off to the right appeared and I stumbled down to Powell's Fort. 100k in 23:45.
The last section was 4 miles up and 4 miles down. It was mostly road bed for the climb. I detest road sections but this was actually a welcome sight. I sputtered up the road and around the reservoir. The road climbed gently until the very top, where it became washed out and fairly steep. There's a radio tower on Signal Knob and a nice lookout. It was hazy but on a clear day, DC would be visible.
I thought it was 4 miles to this point but it was only three. Single track climbed another mile near Meneka Peak. I was warned at the last aid station that this was a notoriously rocky section, even for Massanutten standards. They weren't kidding! My feet were in perilous pain. I tried to land midfoot rather than on the balls of my feet. The grade was gentle on the downslope but it was rocky.
With less than 4 miles to go I was given a new lesson in bouldering. For the next three miles, there were was more time spent in boulder fields than on rocky trail. It took large steps to traverse the fields, the kind of step you've simply lost the desire to make. I would love this in the reverse ring but after 68 miles, I'd had enough. A woman from the last aid station came up from the finish and offered encouragement. It helped but there was still work to be done. Finally, a switchback and the boulder fields were no more. The last mile was incredibly dry and the sun was beating down on me. Shade soon became a luxury. Gravity came to my aid and I picked up the pace a bit. The pines disappeared and a hardwood forest emerged, always a good sign. One more switchback and soon I could hear cars speeding by. The parking lot was ahead. I had joined the Fellowship of the Ring!
71 miles in 27:29.
This run appeared to be more difficult than SCAR. The climbing was a bit more moderate at around 14,000 but the endless rocks and boulders really take their toll, especially at night, where it becomes so tedious and mentally taxing just trying to follow the trail and then not fallin g down. I managed to stay on my feet the entire time despite numerous slips and over 100 stumbles. I recommend this only for someone who wants an absolutely incredible challenge as there is little support from others. This a true solo endeavor, just like SCAR.
I later found out that only 12 of the 32 runners completed the Ring. I finished