Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Grindstone 100 - 2nd 100 Miler

Stumbling along this rocky trail in the pitch black woods and I am horrified because I realize I have no idea where I am going. There are several trails that connect to other trails and a few dead end trails for new construction. One of the trails I know will lead back to Grindstone so I head down one  in the opposite direction. I'm desperately trying not to walk any further than absolutely necessary and I want to go to bed. I really want to go to bed. "Take a left, then there is a trail, and then another trail." Those aren't directions. Why didn't I say something? I am lost! 
Holyaxemurderer who is that standing in the woods? 

  • October 7th, 8th and 9th 2011 
  • 101.85 Miles on an out-and-back course 
  • Over 46,000 feet of total elevation change 
  • Technical Terrain 
  • 6PM start in Swoope, Virginia 
  • 38 hour time limit with intermediate cut-off times 
  • 15 Aid Stations 
  • A well marked course although not overly reassuring for first timers 
  • 118 starters and 85 finishers (72%) 
  • Neal Gorman 1st place for Men in 19 hours 41 minutes 
  • Debbie Livingston 1st place for Women in 24 hours 58 minutes 

Nicknamed the "The hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian"

Training and 2nd 100 Miler Mental State
Shortly after I completed Massanutten as my first 100 (the toughest 100 east of the Rockies), I signed up for Grindstone (the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian). Sometimes the only difference between brave and foolish will be the end result. As Grindstone began to approach I started to consider what I had really signed up for:
  • A race run mostly at night 
  • Climbs that last twice the heights and lengths of the climbs at Massanutten. (Uphills for 7 to 9 miles) 
  • 30% more elevation change than Massanutten 
  • A 6PM start so the sleep and food cycle will be off 
  • The distance between Aid Stations increases near the end of this 100 miler
Massanutten was truly a great life experience for me. But I really had to dig deep to finish that as a first 100 and my pacers Jim and Seth saved me in that race.

About 6 weeks prior to GS (Grindstone)  I wasn’t really sure yet about my fitness because it had been a busy summer. In 9 successive weekends I had travelled to VT, a race in NJ, CT, NH, Boston, Miami, WV and then two weekends in Jordan. I still trained, but it wasn’t the ideal check-the-box-on-the-training-plan-every-week kind of training.

With only 3 weeks to go before the race my peak training week reached 80 miles. This was a turning point and suddenly I felt confident and strong. I hadn't worked on speed but I still I tested it and ran a 6-minute mile on a slightly longer run. I was now ready for Grindstone.

Pre-race Briefing
For the safety of the runners, it's policy to weigh us in at the start and then check us again at miles 35.9 and 66.6. The weigh-in was followed by a light meal and then Clark Zealand, the Race Director, began the briefing. He kept it interesting by pausing to play Ultrarunner Santa Clause and hand out raffle prizes from many of the sponsors. The highlight, I think, was a guest star appearance by ultrarunning legend Dr. Horton. Surprisingly, instead of giving us useful course information, advice or inspiring us to go run 100 miles, he  lectures us and repeats several times "Don't be Stupid". He also advised us out-of-towners to know the course through prior purchase of a local trail map and not to rely on the course markings that he had put up. It was too late for the advice and we were about to start the hardest 100 east of the...

Start to Mile 5.2, Falls Hallow Aid Station
5.18 miles, average pace of 11:46
6:00 PM to 7:00 PM (Twilight)

Clothing & Gear: Inov-8 roclite 295’s, Drymax Lite Trail Running Socks with a BlisterShield Powder single use packet, shorts, sleevelss, hat, Camelbak Octane XC 70 oz., Vest from the Sugoi Versa Jacket, arm warmers in Camelbak, headlamp Mainly clear. Low 41F. Winds light and variable. (This was the forecast for the town. We were warned it would be in the 30's on the mountain)

It was chilly at the start so I wore my post-race snowboarding jacket over my race clothes. It was funny but I had three people ask me separately if I was going to wear that for the race. "Yes I will. But first I need to put my snowboard pants on so I don't look weird."

A few minutes before 6pm and we are all lined up behind the Grindstone 100 banner. A group prayer was given by Dr. Horton, which included one more "Don't be stupid" and then we were off. I settled into a position of 50-60th out of 118 starters and that's where I finished. So far I have not been fast in the 100's but I know I'm hardy and consistent.

There was some good technical in the first few miles of the race. Then, as the sun was fading, about 10 of us were cruising down a jeep road and we were distracted by the mammoth mountain range that was just appearing through the leaves. Some of us missed a hard right turn onto the trail but another runner caught it and saved us all an early blow to morale. We backtracked onto the trail and that’s when I heard Dr. Horton's quote “Don't be stupid" echo up and down the line.

Approaching the first ascent

Mile 5.2 to 14.6, Dry Branch Gap
9.4 miles, average pace of 16:26
7:00 PM to 9:43 PM (Night)

Those first 9 miles with 4000' of ascent took me about 2.5 hours. Much of the trail had tricky footing and this was followed by a brutal climb up to the summit of Eliot's Knob. The worst of the climb was on a gravel road and it was pretty steep (17% grade for the last 1.2 miles to the top). I was with a smaller group now and we were meeting one another and chatting as our calf muscles were doing some serious flexing. I had heard this road described as “being able to reach straight out and touch the ground in front of you.” Prior to the race, Jim and I weren't sure if he should pace 30, 40 or 50 miles. We took an easy approach to it and it would depend on how long he slept in on Saturday. But just after I summited Eliot Knob, Jim texted to ask “How was it?”  And I replied "Hope u make 50".

The next downhill was 2800' deep and it is single-track carved onto the edge of the mountain. The trail was  made up of large, loose rocks that seesawed as I ran over them. These rocks made deep clunking noises and I could hear them banging against each other from the runners that were both in front and behind me on the trail. On one side is an uphill and the other is a steep slope down into a black hole. The trees and flora were also sparse down there which meant there is not a lot to grab onto. I paid attention to my footing.

We went down 2800’ and then back up 1800’ and then back down another 2800’ and I was feeling good. On the second descent I briefly caught up with David Snipes and a few others. He encouraged me to stay with them but here the rocks were loose again and that black hole was still to the side.

Miles 14.6 to 22.1, Dowells Draft
7.5 miles, average pace of 16:41
9:43 PM to 11:40 PM (Night)
Clothing & Gear: Switched sleeveless to sleeved shirt, changed hat to lightweight beanie, picked up arms to Sugoi Versa Jacket and put in Camelbak, put on arm warmers Felt like upper 30's

I did not feel like eating but in my drop bag at mile 22 was a Vietnamese coffee which I had really been looking forward to. When I entered the AS, I was hoping to spot Rob Colenso's crew for an easy emotional power up but missed them because the place was a beehive. There were scores of runners, crew and volunteers. I dove into my drop bag and grabbed layers. As I was changing I can remember watching steam floating off the other runner' backs! I realized that I was at my drop bag for a little too long but it was confusing with all of the energy. Thankfully I had written out directions in my bag and I followed them line by line to make sure I was taking care of everything. As I was doing this the runner next to me was working on getting some sympathy from his GF. I left freezing cold but the 3-mile climb that followed quickly warmed me up.

Photo by Bobby Gill

Mile 22.1 to 30.5, Lookout Mountain
8.4 miles, average pace of 18:18
11:40 PM to 2:25 AM (Night)

On the climb up the next mountain I was traveling with a runner who was using trekking poles. There were still some people passing us and we were passing a few when we came upon a runner sitting on a nice long ledge immediately to the side of the trail having a snack. The trek pole guy said “I am going to take a nap.” So the 3 of us lined up next to one another and slept on this ledge. I heard more runners approach and they also laid down next to us. I woke up a few minutes later freezing cold and I could hear snoring. A 10-minute map made me feel sharp and refreshed. I started in on my bottle of coffee and was good to go.

Mile 30.5 to 35.9, North River Gap
5.4 miles, average pace of 21:44
2:25 AM to 4:13 AM (Night)
Clothing & Gear: Battery change and hand warmers

At the Mile 30 AS my stomach was in a full revolt. It was like Occupy Wall Street except it knew what it wanted and had a realistic plan to achieve it: there will be no more food. I made a mistake and attempted a caffeine pill. It quickly dissolved in my mouth, I bit it in half and then I vomited. Don't be stupid! I also had a  puking experience at Massanutten but this time I rallied myself mentally and went straight for something I could put down: ramen soup with broth and noodles. The next 8-hours was a battle to take in food and salt.

I went back out on the trail and put on some music for motivation. I ran with one headphone in so I could communicate with other runners and listen to the sound of my feet as they landed.

Mile 35.9 to 43.7, Little Bald Knob
7.8 miles, average pace of 23:27
4:13 AM to 7:00 (Night) Probably mid 30's

When I got to the AS they weighed me in and I had only dropped 2 pounds. David Snipes and another runner were encouraging me but I felt nauseous just thinking about food. Liquids went down easily so I ate a cup of Brunswick Stew and then grabbed a pair of hand warmers from my drop bag. As I was leaving this AS I ran by a number of crews hanging out by a very warm and inviting fire. It was 4AM and I was a little out of it because I yelled excitedly “I have hand warmers” and kept running.

Shortly after I started the next uphill I thought I saw a headlamp and a runner breaking apart branches up ahead to build a separate fire. I went up the switchback towards that location but when I got there I didn't see anyone! I thought I was hallucinating when again I saw the headlamp further up and the guy breaking branches. As I closed in this time I realized it was actually a runner making walking sticks!

Miles 34 to 43.7 turned out to be the toughest part of the course for me for a number of reasons:
  • It is almost a 4500ft climb and happening at the worst time 3-7AM 
  • I was low on energy from not eating
  • I could not stop thinking about sleep
Thankfully I did have all the right layers on because it was probably in the mid-30’s. It was easy to see my breath and there was an occasional cold breeze so we must have been somewhat exposed while climbing to the top of this tall mountain. I also used my hand warmers as a nose warmer.

On the 2.5-hour climb from the AS, I began taking 5-10 minute naps. At first I would find a nice place on the side of the trail, then take off my pack, then set a 15-minute alarm and lay down on my back. The cold would inevitably wake me up before the alarm would go off but I would feel refreshed. By the end of the climb I had the catnaps down so that I would simply just fall over on my side with all of my gear still on and pass out for a few minutes.

My fading headlamp
From miles 5 to 22 (about 6 hours) the batteries for my headlamp worked well. They were still going strong at mile 22 but I changed them out with fresh batteries anyway. I assumed that the batteries would also last another 6 hours until sunrise. Don't be stupid. I forgot to account for the cold weakening them! It was around 5AM when my headlamp faded from a nice wide spotlight to a small circle. I arched my neck down towards the ground for more light. Around 6AM the sun was just rising on the horizon but I could still see the stars clearly overhead. (The stars were Planetarium Awesome BTW). I kept peeking over my shoulder and then I would wish for the sun to hurry up. Then I would turn back to watch the circle continue to fade.

This section was my struggle for this 100. When I finally made it to the top I was honestly thinking “If I see Jim we are getting in the car and going straight back to NJ.” But after the peak was a descent and by the time I reached the Little Bald Knob Aid Station the sun was rising. This was an incredible powerup. I forgot all of that bad juju and I was ready to do whatever was necessary to complete Grindstone.

Photo by Geoffrey S. Baker at

Mile 43.7 to 48.2, Reddish Knob and Mile 48.2 to 51.6, Gnashing Knob
4.5 miles, average pace of 17:33 and 3.4 miles, average pace of 16:16
7:00 AM to 8:26 AM (Dawn) and 8:26 AM to 9:31 AM (Day)
Clothing & Gear: Threw out batteries and dropped headlamp Sunny skies. High 74F. Winds light and variable.

It just goes to show you that we impose limits on what we believe we cannot do. I met Randy Dietz on my way to the turnaround and for a few hours we had a pretty good time running together. At 61, Randy was running solo on his 41st 100 miler and he was crushing it.

Randy stuck it out with me while I was having a low and we tried talking through my difficulty eating solid foods. When we reached Mile 51 the volunteers were making fresh breakfast burritos and I just had to take one. I had brought our pace down to a walk but Randy pointed out that eating and drinking was worth much more than the time spent.

Mile 51.6 to 54.9, Reddish Knob
3.3 miles, average pace of 17:02
9:31 AM to 10:23 AM (Day)

Jim arrived with perfect timing to start pacing at mile 51! I caught him up on my late night struggles and was feeling pretty chipper and enthusiastic. (Some background on my friend: Jim blew through his first 100 at VT  this year with a sub-23)

The burrito was now fueling me and I had the impression that having something in my stomach was making it easier to eat! Randy was moving a little faster than me and I needed to take in more food so we stopped at the next AS and he went off ahead.

Mile 54.9 to 58.7, Little Bald Knob
3.8 miles, average pace of 15:32
10:23 AM to 11:25 AM (Day)

Clothing & Gear: Changed lightweight beanie to hat, added sunglasses, dropped arm warmers, picked up empty headlamp. BlisterShield Powder single use packet, Clean Drymax socks, Alcohol pad, sterile lancet and Second Skin

Having learned this an important lesson from my first 100, I performed a planned foot treatment at Mile 58.7 with a sterile lancet. Once the blisters were taken care of, a new BlisterShield power pack was dumped into a pair of fresh socks.

One of the Aid Station volunteers came over and paid a lot of attention to help me resolve my eating issue. He asked pointed questions and when he heard I couldn’t take in any S-caps or Endurolytes he offered Nuun. I said "I train on Nuun" and he quite logically pointed out that I should have brought it for the race. “Don’t be stupid!” The Nuun container is heavy but in hindsight I could have staged them in my drop bags since the eating issue is not new.

Two days later I would find out that the super knowledgeable, helpful volunteer was Jonathan Basham. Out of over 700 attempts by ultrarunners, Jonathan is the 9th Finisher of The Barkley Marathons 100 Mile Run. 54,200 feet of accumulated ascent, 54,200 feet of descent in a total of 5 loops. Each 20 mile loop has a 12 hour time limit. That’s right. 12 hours to run 20 miles. Less than a 1.5% overall success rate and invitation only. I just love this sport even more knowing that Jonathan Basham volunteered his time and focused on helping a mid-pack runner for his 100.

Mile 58.7 to 66.6, North River Gap
7.9 miles, average pace of 17:36
11:25 AM to 1:28 PM (Day)
Clothing & Gear: Tried to change to a clean shirt but only had longsleeve. Picked up batteries for the approaching night

Jim and I departed that excellent aid station in good spirits and we climbed. That’s when I remembered that I had packed a handheld bottle with coffee but then forget it in my drop bag. Jim ignored my comments to leave it, sprinted back and retrieved the coffee. Now that’s a great friend and pacer! That coffee helped me maintain my focus for the next 4500' descent and the 2600' ascent. At the bottom of the 4500' Jim found a pair of wood walking sticks that were smooth, lightweight and just laying at the side of the trail. Again what a great pacer because I used these for the next 30 miles!

Mile 66.6 to 72.0, Lookout Mountain
5.4 miles, average pace of 24:30
1:28 PM to 3:55 PM (Day)

When we arrived at the AS they weighed me in again and I was still only down two pounds from my original weight. My graph of the Grindstone elevation chart must have been off because I was seeing a descent from this aid station. But then as Jim and I were leaving we immediately started climbing and I was concerned that we had yet to reach another descent before we started a 2600' ascent. I developed a paranoia and started constantly checking that we were still on the course!

There are a few moments during that afternoon when I felt the enormity of the race. I was sure to listen to Jim whenever he would tell me to speed up. My mental preparation included using mantras to help pass the low points. I remember a few of them:
  • It’s a 100. There will be struggles.
  • Just keep swimming. (Then I would think about swimming)
  • I want that buckle.
My diet was pretty much Kit-Kats, M&M’s and Gin-Gins. At every aid station Jim went on a mission to find foods I would eat. There wasn’t much fruit on the course which is too bad because fruit is much easier to eat than dry chips, dry pretzels and sticky PB&J.

Mile 72.0 to 80.4, Dowells Draft
8.4 miles, average pace of 20:52
3:55 PM to 6:42 PM (Day & Twilight)
Clothing & Gear: Long sleeve shirt, headlamp on, dropped sunglasses, changed hat for lightweight beanie, Sugoi jacket vest and arm sleeves on, winter running gloves

We ran into several groups of mountain bikers. They were all super friendly and really encouraging. There was one biker with her two dogs going up and down on the same trail. While we were on a 1400' climb she passed us in the opposite direction and announced “Almost at the top.” I learned long ago never to ask or to listen to someone that says you are almost anywhere. Their perception of time and distance will rarely meet with your own. But her comment was a welcome distraction and it kept us entertained. We figured out that if she was coming downhill at a speed of 15mph and we were moving uphill at 2-3mph, a distance of 2 miles would seem like a few minutes to her but an hour for us! We reached the top and started a 3-mile descent to the AS.

The leaf colors here were phenomenal!
Photo by Geoffrey S. Baker at
The light through the forest leaves sometimes played tricks on the eyes. Sometimes I would mistake a dark maple leaf on the ground for a giant bug. One time I think I was borderline hallucinating because on trail ahead I saw an elaborately carved cat statue and I was wondering why someone had left it. As I passed by it became a log.

The sun set just as we are arrived at Mile 80 and we reached the final drop bag. We changed into fresh, warm gear for the coming night and the temperature dropped fast. I was cold and shaking as we left for the next climb.

Mile 80.4 to 87.8, Dry Branch Gap
7.4 miles, average pace of 24:50
6:42 PM to 10:00 PM (Night) Mainly clear. Low 43F. Winds light and variable. (This is the forecast for the town. Colder in the mountains)

I counted down the miles to 90. Each one we took down was a milestone. There were now two, 2800' climbs before the last Aid Station. The first was tough but doable.

Shown here is Tom McNulty saved us a post-race worry by comandeering the car and bringing it to the finish line for us from Mile 51! Photo by Bobby Gill.
At Mile 88 we arrived to a warm fire and Tom McNutly in his awesome robot suit. The radio operator was  kind enough to share a cup of coffee from his personal coffee pot. I did not point it out to Jim but I knew I was avoiding food again. (Maybe it is night related?) As we headed out towards the final Aid Station I had to stop  thinking about how many hours it would take to get to Mile 97!

Mile 87.8 to 96.7, Falls Hallow
8.9 miles, average pace of 25:39
10:00 PM to 1:50 AM (Night)

Brutal! The second 2800' climb was the trail carved on the edge of the mountain with the black hole to one side. Also those large loose clunking rocks were back. Which runner at the Aid Station said this was a Jeep road?

Occasionally we would stop and turn off our headlamps so we could look at the dark shapes of the mountains next to us. The stars and the outlines of these massive shapes were incredible.

We were most of the way up the mountain when we caught up to Randy. He was waking from a nap and was sharp and ready to move. We finally made it off of the black hole trail but that’s when I started stumbling around and falling asleep while running. I overheard Randy ask Jim what was going on with me and Jim said “You haven’t met Zombie Mark?” I was stubborn and refused to sleep until we had reached that steep gravel road from 24 hours ago. The walking sticks kept me from face planting but really I should have stopped to nap.

Where was that damned gravel road! When we finally got there Jim looked for a comfortable place I could lay down but instead I just walked onto the road and passed out on my side. Five minutes later I think I surprised him when I woke myself up and announced I was ready to go.

No sooner had we started down the mountain when two runners caught up to us. It was Rob Colenso and his pacer Bob Gaylord. Rob thankfully backed it down to our pace and the five of us formed a team. Bob was hilarious and egged on the whole group to move faster. I think he called us "molasses".

Mile 96.7 to 101.85, Finish
5.2 miles, average pace of 25:08
1:50 AM to 3:50 AM (Night)

“Get me out of here.” – Mark Leuner 3AM

5 miles from the finish. L to R: Randy Dietz, Bob Gaylord, Mark Leuner, Jim Bruening and Rob Colenso
At this Aid Station was Instant Folgers coffee which we were all very happy to have. We started the final leg with Carrie Lombardo and her pacer and once absorbed, we looked like one large amoeba of headlamps.

My legs felt fine at the time but I was having a real problem walking fast to keep up. I could run but not walk at the group's pace so I had to run a short distance, then walk, then run a short distance, then walk. It was driving me nuts. We encountered the technical rocks from the Miles 2-5 and they were also tripping us up. We had already run 100 miles but now it is one last minefield of toe stubs and ankle twisting before we finished. I am not sure what I was thinking but it was probably a combination of the rocks and the odd walk-run pace that prompted me to start saying “Get me out of here” And “Let’s get out of here”. Jim and Rob found it hilarious.

We finally made it to the Finish. Our awesome and much appreciated pacers ran ahead and the four runners crossed the line together as one. Clark congratulated us all and then we collapsed on the totem pole for a few glamour shots.

Carrie Lombardo
Randy Dietz
Rob Colenso
Mark Leuner

Post Race
After the finish of Massanutten in May a stranger told me 100’s get easier. The mental at Grindstone was easier for me but I have to say the lows I had for my first 100 would make anything seem better. I think the physical is the physical and will depend on the race prep and the difficulty of the race. For Grindstone I prepared just right because in the days afterwards my legs were not even sore. Eating seems to be my trial for the 100’s and something to work on. Grindstone was a tough, strenuous course that required a lot of solid physical and mental resolve to complete and I am very thankful for the experience!

The Shower Story
We are now at the finish line/Dining Hall. The showers are a quarter mile into the woods in the opposite direction of the tents. Jim walks to the tents, grabs my post-race bag, picks me up at the Dining Hall and then leads the way into the woods. The trail to the showers is rocky and uneven so I am watching my footing! After I shower I am moving slow and feeling really appreciative for all of his efforts so I urge Jim to finally go to the tents to get some sleep. "How do I get back?" "Take a left, then follow a trail to another trail."

When I exit the showers I cannot see the Dining Hall and I am stumbling along this rocky trail in the pitch black woods with my headlamp emanating the only light. I am horrified because I realize now I have no idea where I am going! There are several trails that connect to other trails and a few dead end trails. One way leads back to Grindstone so I head down the one in the opposite direction. I am desperately trying not to walk any further than absolutely necessary because I feel everything and I want to go to bed. I really want to go to bed. I am wearing flip flops and carrying bags of dirty clothes. "Take a left, then there's a trail, and then another trail." Those aren't directions. Why didn't I say something! I am lost. The trail I take turns out to be the wrong one so my mind is on overdrive trying to figure out how to get back. "Don't be stupid!" I shouldn't have urged Jim to go back and now I might have to sleep on the bench in the showers. I use my phone and take a chance that the Boy Scouts of America published a map locating the boys' showers on the internet. Sure enough there's a map. Soon I am back on track and heading down a trail to the Dining Hall when I hear "Hey, over here."

Holyaxemurderer who is that? Why is there a person standing alone in the middle of the woods with no light? This is weird. "Come over here." Who are you? "I forgot my headlamp. Where are you going?" "The Dining Hall." "You're going the wrong way. It's over there." (The opposite direction I am going) "How did you get here in the dark without a headlamp?" "They turned the lights off on me after I showered" "I just came from the showers." "I JUST came from that way. THOSE are the showers." Is this person crazy?  "Come over here." "I just ran 100 miles, you come over here." "I ran it too. But I can't see anything." He continues to try to convince me, with all the confidence in the world, that he knows where he is going and he just needs me to flip flop my way over to him with my light. I am not in the mood and want to go to bed. I still don’t know how he got that far in the woods in the dark. I see he has on a Grindstone sweatshirt so I go to get him. I tell him I have a map on my phone and that I know where the Dining Hall is. He follows me through the woods and then as we approach the Dining Hall he says to me: "There's the Dining Hall."

This was the chaotic scene 45 minutes after I crossed the finish line at the Grindstone 100. Two idiots, having just run 102 miles over mountains, can't find their way back from the showers. Have you ever wondered why products have labels like "Do not iron clothes while on body." Well this story is the reason why Grindstone will put up course markings next year from the Dining Hall to the showers.

Grindstone 100 from Mark Leuner on Vimeo.

Grindstone Movie

Race Website

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Running with the Devil - July 2011

“The more sweat on the training field, the less blood on the battlefield"

This past weekend NJ Trail Series hosted Running with the Devil on the slopes of the Mountain Creek Ski Resort. The name for the race is fairly obvious because it takes place in the heat of July and it is a 3 mile loop course that offers very little protection from the sun. The race is held on a mountain comprised entirely of black diamonds and whether you are crawling up or flying down a trail, it still feels like you are exercising in an inferno. Each loop has 1100 feet of ascent, followed by 1100 feet of screaming downhills. You have the pleasure of selecting a 3, 6 or 12 hour race. Being that this was my first time, I went for the 12-hour.

This is a true elevation profile of 1 loop. But I had to photoshop in the other 9 because the Garmin 310 had a recent firmware update that automatically erases your run if you don't manually select 'reset'. It was definitely more useful when it automatically saved it!

Some basics:
  • July 23, 2011 in Vernon, New Jersey held at the Mountain Creek Ski Resort
  • 1,100 feet of vertical for the 1.5 mile ascent
  • 1,100 feet of vertical for the 1.5 mile descent
  • Light technical terrain
  • 3, 6 or 12-hour race
  • 6AM start for the 12-hour
  • 9AM start for the 3 and 6-hour races
  • Well stocked Aid Station in the Kink bar at the base. Shaded, some fans and bathrooms
  • One unmanned water Aid Station near the summit
  • 12 hour
    • 35 Participants
    • 1st place male: Jason Friedman with 50.1 Miles
    • 1st place female: Jennifer Brunet with 41.8 Miles
  • 6 hour 
    • 22 Participants
    • 1st place male: Kelvin Marshall with 27.9 Miles
    • 1st place female: Elaine Acosta with 22.2 Miles
  • 3 hour 
    • 70 Participants
    • 1st place male: Mike Dixon with 15.5 Miles
    • 1st place female: Zsuzsanna Carlson with 12.9 Miles

The day before the race the National Weather Service issued an “excessive heat warning” for all of northeast New Jersey and New York. Technically, this warning means that the heat and humidity causes temperatures to feel like they are at least 105 degrees. It cooled off a little by race day and reported that it felt like it was 101.

The 3 mile loop starts from within the Kink Bar at the mountain’s base. Here we met for a quick race briefing before the 6AM start where we received a serious warning about monitoring your body temperature. There was an EMT was on site and we were warned we would be pulled if our condition deteriorated. This was followed by the other important reminder that we were there to have fun!

Loop 1
Clothing & Gear: I doused myself with SPF 50 spray-on sunblock, shorts, hat and carried one 20 oz. handheld. I was wearing Inov-8 roclite 295’s, Drymax Lite Trail Running Socks and sunglasses Partly Cloudy. Feels like 101. Humidity 59%

It’s 6AM and myself and 34 other runners begin our first loop. We ignore the chairlift overhead because for now we aren’t thinking about how wonderful even the slowest of chairlifts can be. Most of us are hurrying up the mountain entirely too fast for a 12 hour race and we know it. But hey, it’s the first loop so we still do it.

The start of the first hill. I was debating adding this one because it appears so flat

Even though that first climb is easy we were still leaning into the hill. That first climb is followed by a short traverse on a covered downhill and at the bottom is a downed tree which we were leaping over. We rounded the corner that first time which is when we first met our adversary… Kamikaze.
The Approach to Kamikaze
photo by

Kamikaze is an aptly named run because it provides snowboarders and skiers with reckless speed as they bomb down its steep face in the winter. However we are not going down. We have a vertical height of 500ft to climb and the hill is completely exposed to the sun. There is no choice. There is no out. You have to go up. It didn’t take much time before desperation set in and my mind started working on a solution. I remembered a talk with my friend about the method he uses to hunt uphill and how walking switchback up the mountainside is a lot easier on the quads. I employed some variation of this and angled a little to the left, then a little to the right. This changed up the muscle groups but only slightly. I tried many paths up that slope throughout the day and what I determined was that the faster I was off the face of Kamikaza, the faster I felt better. Even standing on Kamikaze’s side to catch my breath put a strain on the legs!

photo by

At the top of Kamikaze is a covered fire road that leads to a longer descent than the first. However as I reach the bottom of this trail we pop out in front of another climb! This upper section was easier than the middle third, thankfully, and I finally reached the summit where there is an unmanned station with hundreds of gallons of water waiting in the shade.

I began my descent and found that the top part was the best place to practice screaming downhills.

 photo by Hillcrest Photo

Screaming downhills is a way to describe the speed that you can pick up on a steep downhill. The term sometimes makes it into ultrarunning blogs and I think it was adapted from another meaning: “making a power dive in a fighter aircraft”. Running with the Devil turned out to be a great race and training because I practiced screaming downhills all day and refined my method based on what I had read. The hills were steep, repetitive and difficult so this was a great place to test the way to run them.

Below is a description of a screaming downhill but here are a few essentials:
1. Let gravity do the work. 
2. Never brake. 
3. Don’t trip.

Lean forward away from the mountain. Put your chin forward and your chest will follow. Feel the gravity pull and use it to your advantage. Take many fast, short strides and your legs will keep you upright while gravity moves you forward. Be careful though because you will pick up speed! Remember to step smartly and keep your arms wide for balance. This type of running is hard on the legs but it is better than the alternative of leaning back towards the mountain. Leaning back forces your quads to act as a break which will tear them apart. Another reason to refine the technique is because I have read how most runners share similar speeds when climbing, but there is a large spread on how fast they can take the downhills. Stay very focused when you run this way because while you are taking many little steps you must maneuver your feet between every rock, divot and other tripping hazard. If you do not keep yourself upright it will be a learning experience and you probably won't let yourself make that mistake again!

Needless so say, the downhills for Running with the Devil were very tough on the legs.

Some memories from Laps 3-9
  • When I was ending Lap 3 at 9AM I was a little shocked so see 100, 3 and 6-hour runners at the start. I was excited and proud to see so many come out to this race understanding how brutal the conditions may be. I only started running a few years ago and it really was inspiring to see this many participate.
  • We were lucky during the first 4 hours because it had been partly cloudy as predicted. But on the fifth loop the sun came out in full force and the mountainside became one large pan of stir-fried runner.
  • At some point during the race I found I had gotten into a rhythm. Climb up the mountain, come flying down and go to the bar to refuel. While I was at the bar (which was covered in food) I would forget about the last loop, load up the water bottle entirely with ice and as much fresh water as it could fit, eat a few things and then head back out. It was always on that first climb back up that I would remember just how tough the uphill and the down would be!
  • I met quite a few people on this race and saw some old faces which is a special thing for ultrarunning. The climb up led to some good talks about races. And then when talking wasn't possible it was just nice to have company to simply push through it. 
  • Around noon, I was convinced the snow guns lining the side of Kamikaze were brand new and were installed only last week as a form of torture. On one loop I saw a runner crouching on the open hillside hiding in a little 4ft x 4ft shadow beneath one of the snow guns. I couldn't figure out if this was helping him or if he was still getting cooked from all sides and hadn’t realized it.
  • I have one other thing that I tried for this race that worked well. I went to a deli Friday night and ordered a roast beef sub with veggies. I cut it up into fourth’s and brought it along in a cooler. Starting around 10 or 11AM I got into the habit of finishing a loop, grabbing a cup of Mountain Dew and sitting down for 10 minutes while I slowly ate part of my sub. I think it worked because I did not suffer from any stomach distress over the entire day. Also this gave my legs a much needed break. I think it takes a few races with some really tough stomach problems before most runners are ready to try to eat real food. I am now a big fan and recommend trying to make the transition. I still use simple sugars during an ultra but only during a low point.
 photo by Hillcrest Photo

Loop 10
The sun came and went throughout the day but for my last loop it was on its full setting with no cloud cover. I had been accelerating from shadow to shadow on the downhills just to keep my sun exposure to a minimum. For the entire day, good friends from Boston had been waiting for me at home and I realized that forcing out one or two more loops was only going to make me feel that much worse when we went out later that night. I finally called it a day with 10 complete loops and one 1/2 mile loop for 31.5 miles, 22,000 ft of elevation change in 9.5 hours. That was a great workout and put me in 12th place. As I sat in the Kink bar putting on my flip flops I heard from another runner mention that there was now a bear chilling out near the trail. I bet he was watching for the moment Jason Friedman tired. But of course he never did and he busted out 50 miles with over 35,000ft of elevation. Good luck at Leadville JF you are going to crush it!

Post Race
I am pretty happy with my performance at my first Running with the Devil. During Massanutten in May I had had a shin injury that flared up in the last few miles and after the race it pretty much took me out of my regular training for a full month. I had been icing constantly, taking NSAIDs and even had an MRI and nothing helped. But the body does amazing things and it wasn’t until after running on the steep hills at Running with the Devil that I noticed I was now injury free!

Of course this was a hard race but it was a lot of fun. I will end with race report with my post on the NJ Trail Series Facebook Event site. My legs are shredded and I lost my two big toenails. It was totally worth it.

Drinking from my new water bottle in an awesome, polka dotted RWTD technical shirt

Race Website

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Massanutten 2011 - The First 100 Miler


The Massanutten experience can be summed up into this: climb a mountain, run across the top of said mountain, run down the mountain, refuel at the next Aid Station and repeat 10 more times. This course is highly technical and if you find yourself running through a patch that is almost rock free… don't get excited because another section is guaranteed to make up for it. 

Some basics:
  • May 14-15, 2011 
  • 101.7 Miles 
  • Over 32,000 feet of total elevation change
  • Technical terrain 
  • 4AM start in Fort Valley, Virginia 
  • 36 hour time limit with intermediate cut-off times  
  • 15 well stocked Aid Stations with knowledgeable, helpful volunteers 
  • A very well marked course 
  • 195 starters and 132 finishers this year 
  • Karl Meltzer 1st place for Men in 18 hours 18 minutes 
  • Eva Pastalkova 1st place for Women in 22 hours 30 minutes

The nickname for Massanutten, the “toughest 100 east of the Rockies”, really appealed to me when I signed up for this race. This was my first 100 so why of all 100’s did I choose the “toughest” on this half of the country? My ultrarunning birth was the North Face 50 miler at Bear Mountain NY which undoubtedly is one of the harder courses in the Northeast for this distance. 

Having made it through that course I began craving the challenging and more difficult races. Undaunted, I immediately followed this race with a plan to run Hellgate 100k. On the application for that race I filled in the answer to the question “Number of ultras completed?” with “1”. Hellgate’s Race Director and ultrarunning legend, Dr. Horton, sent an email where he kindly advised me to gain a base (which I now have) and perhaps run a 100 miler before I run his 100k. 

And so my taste for the challenging and difficult has landed me right here, just past the start of the starting line of Massanutten, where the air is filled with yells of excitement. This is my first 100 miler, and the first few miles begin with a 3 mile run uphill followed by a 2 mile ascent up the first mountain.

3AM. Waiting at the Start

Start to AS (Aid Station) #1 Moreland Gap
4:00AM to ~4:52AM
Mile 0 through 3.6 (3.6 miles, average pace of 14:32)
Clothing & Gear: Inov-8 roclite 295’s, Drymax Lite Trail Running Socks, shorts, singlet, hat, sunglasses strapped to Camelbak Octane XC 70 oz. Variable cloudy with scattered thunderstorms. A few storms may be severe. Low 59F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 50%. 
“All uphill on a gravel road” - Alan Gowen 2010 Race Report
Going into this race I had 6 months of solid mental and physical preparation. I have to admit that when I was leaving that starting gate each step felt like my feet were made of lead. I asked myself what had I been thinking and questioned if I would really be able to run 100 miles. Several nights of anxious sleep and getting out of bed at 2AM this morning was not helping either. These thoughts weighed on me for 3 miles on the gravel road. But once we hit the woods I felt right at home.

AS #1 to AS #2 Edinburg Gap
~4:52AM to 6:50 AM
Mile 3.6 to 11.7  (8.1 miles, average pace of 14:32)

“While rocky, so much of it was runnable” - Dave Krause 2010 Race Report
We climbed. It was maybe 1500 feet vertical over two miles on rocky terrain and a narrow single track which translates to 'not much room to pass'. Anyone flying overhead would have seen a string of 195 little points of light weaving in a snakelike pattern through the darkness. The woods were cool in the morning and my vision was limited to a spotlight on the ground immediately in front of me. Each runner was wearing a headlamp and unless you were bunched in a group on the climb, there was no other light shining on the path but your own. I felt a bond with the other runners because it was pitch black outside and we were all running through the woods on the same quest. I took some video to capture this and I was overflowing with energy.

To get to the top of Short Mountain was slow but once we reached the ridge line we unleashed. I was surrounded by fast runners and we cruised at a hard pace picking our way over countless rocks. A year ago I took a spill and that had motivated me to hone my technical running. Now we began to bunch up again because of the single track and I had time to watch some of the other runners directly in front of me. I could see that some of their foot placement was rushed and I saw two people go down on the rocks. This was only in my immediate vision so this must have happened many times on Short Mountain. The runners were ok because they were helped onto their feet and then took off again like battle hardened warriors.

The first of my two sunrises began and when I looked up through the leaves I could see a dark blue like the ocean.

On one really great stretch of this section I was listening to Armin Van Buuren and on one of his tracks he mixed in some deep tribal drums. That kicked in this feeling I often get when running in the woods which is primeval. It lasts for a few moments and it is pure and absolute joy!

Short Mountain
Photo by Aaron Schwartzbard

By the time I made it through Short Mountain it was just becoming light and we were on a long downhill approach to the second AS (Aid Station). Here I arrived to cowbells, clapping and cheering! The support in this race is tremendous and that was a great introduction to it. Here I saw my friend Mike Bielik volunteering and he is an ultrarunning-ironman and former soccer teammate. He helped me fill my pack and then I was out and climbing up the next mountain.

First Mistake: As I left the Aid Station I noticed that I was only about 50 minutes ahead of the first cutoff. This made me uncomfortable and I pushed really hard for the next few hours to increase that gap. I was successful because I completed 25% of the race in 6 hours! But this was not the right pace for a first timer on Massanutten, and definitely not a good idea for my first 100 miler. I probably paid triple later on with my time.

AS #2 to AS #3 Woodstock Tower
6:50AM to 8:48AM
Mile 11.7 to 19.9 (8.2 miles, average pace of 14:23) Scattered thunderstorms. High 72F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%.

“After a nice long climb, I reached the ridgeline” - Hamilton Tyler 2010 Race Report
Up the next mountain and we entered the clouds. At the top of the range the sun occasionally poked through but mostly there were white clouds just off to our left. I met a runner from Japan, Tetsuro Ogata, and we chatted a bit as we leapfrogged back and forth along the trail.

Running in the Clouds

AS #3 to AS #4 Powell's Fort Camp
8:48AM to 10:04AM
Mile 19.9 to 25.1 (5.2 miles, average pace of 14:37) 

“The section to Powell's Fort is one of the easier one's as for once you do not have to climb up a huge ridge after leaving the aid station” - Dave Krause 2010 Race Report
At this AS and at any one of the others the volunteers were always so helpful and they cheered for us as we ran in. There was always an array of food to choose from and all of this made me feel very positive when I first arrived and then a second time as I sped out.

On this section I ran into The Massanutten Legend Gary Knipling and at 67 years young he was on his way to complete his 14th finish on this course. This is probably an understatement but Gary is an extremely friendly person and we chatted a bit about the upcoming section of the course. Part of my preparation for this race was to watch the 2006 movie "Massanutten – 2 Runners, 100 Miles" in which Gary was one of the featured runners. Running with him for a bit added to my positive experience. And I really have to watch that movie again to see if they captured enough of the rocks.

AS #4 to AS #5 Elizabeth Furnace
10:04AM to 12:03PM
Mile 25.1 to 32.6 (7.5 miles, average pace of 15:52)

“This downhill trail is rocky in some places but for the most part it affords some of the best running of the race” - Alan Gowen 2010 Race Report
At this AS there was a smorgasbord of food to choose from. I was browsing over the huge selection and feeling indecisive when one of the volunteers offered me an ice cream sandwich! They even kept them frozen solid so it would not melt too quickly in the heat. Volunteering at this AS was also the previous Massanutten Race Director, Stan Duobinis, who was cooking eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes for the runners which was very cool of him.

I was feeling good as I left the aid station and ran past an empty swimming pool on my right. Little did I know but this would be foreshadowing for the rest of the day. I heard the temperature broke 80 and I recall the weather said it was going to be over 60% humid. All day I was plagued with persistent thoughts of ice baths and slushies.

AS #5 to AS #6 Shawl Gap
12:03PM to 1:23PM
Mile 32.6 to 37.6 (5 miles, average pace of 16:00)

“After cresting the mountain I go straight over the saddle and down the other side” - Hamilton Tyler 2010 Race Report

Descent from Shawl Gap
Photo by Aaron Schwartzard

AS #6 to AS #7 Veach Gap
1:23PM to 2:10PM
Mile 37.6 to 40.7 (3.1 miles, average pace of 15:10) 

“Leaving Shawl Gap we run a gravel road for three miles” - Alan Gowen 2010 Race Report
Before I started the race I had planned to run this gravel road at a pace of 10-12 minutes per mile despite the race reports I read. But when I got there it was very difficult to do since most of the road was exposed to the sun and it was one of the hottest parts of the day. This was a slow section for all of us and only when one runner started to pass another would we feel compelled to pick up our feet and start moving.

AS #7 to AS #8 Indian Grave
2:10PM to 4:52PM
Mile 40.7 to 49.7 (9 miles, average pace of 18:00) 

“Heading out of Veach Gap you have another long climb back to the ridgeline and then you follow the ridge for miles before hitting the purple trail that drops you back down to another dreaded dirt road.” - Garry Harrington 2010 Race Report 

“The next section is brutal climbs.” - Kate Abbott 2010 Race Report
The uphill after leaving AS#7 is sick. I figured is about a 15% grade for 2 straight miles which may not sound like much but it is when you are out there. At one point you can see straight up the hill for about ½ a mile and it is clear that it is steep. To add to the mental struggle, you can see other runners farther ahead and behind and they do not look like they are moving forward at all either! This was a very long and tough section in the heat and it was draining.

Finally I pulled into AS#8 and I was tired, picky about food and at a low. The bugs were out in force and as I doused myself in spray, I discovered my pack had rubbed some of the skin off of my left shoulder. That stung. But with the bad came the good and this was now the fourth time I had run a consecutive 50 miles. It was getting easier each time!

I ate, refilled on water and took a few ham and cheese quarter sandwiches with me for the road.

AS #8 to AS #9 Habron Gap
4:52PM to 5:51PM
Mile 49.7 to 53.6 (3.9 miles, average pace of 15:08)

“I knew from experience that this road section would be miserable.” - Alan Gowen 2010 Race Report
I remember this road well because at one point along here I was descending and off in the distance is a vertical wall that I knew was our next climb. I was moving down a couple of hundred feet only to start climbing back up in a few miles!

The next ascent in the background

I walked the first half of the gravel road until the sun finally started moving towards the horizon. Along the way I was sending texts to my pacers and posting a few photos on Facebook. I posted a status on Facebook that "Reading all posts! Thank you it helps!". What a support network, because the next morning I had over 100 email notifications.

About halfway through this leg, the ham and cheese sandwiches must have kicked in because I was on a high again and I ran hard into AS#9. The entrance was lined on both sides with crews and observers hanging out in lawn chairs and cheering. It looked like a really fun place to be!

AS #9 to AS #10 Camp Roosevelt
5:51PM to 9:05PM
Mile 53.6 to 63.1 (9.5 miles, average pace of 20:25)

“I was attacking the climb up to Habron Gap, which is one of the hardest climbs in the entire race.” - Alan Gowen 2010 Race Report
Before I share my second mistake it's time for a good experience. As I mentioned above, the entrance to this AS was lined with people that we passed on the way to the tent to refuel. On the way back out, the runners double back through this group and before they go too far on that same gravel road there is a hard turn into the woods. As I was on my way out, two cute girls were lounging at the roadside in their chairs and one of them yells “You looked so good coming in, why don’t you do it again? But this time with your shirt off.” Imagine if that was your crew!

Second Mistake: Now onto my second mistake of the race which had to be the most damaging. This blunder affected me for the next 20, maybe 30 miles and if you look at my splits you can see that the times increased immediately by over 5 minutes per mile and then never returned.

At the AS I picked up my 2nd drop bag which had two semi-sweet baker's chocolates at 150 calories a pop and a few other goodies. It also had a 5-Hour Energy and since I knew this next section was going to be a bitch of a climb, and 9 miles long, I took the whole thing down in one dose. This would easily carry me until I reached my pacers at mile 63. I loaded my pack, ate some aid station goodies and then one of the volunteers offered me soup. Sure! Soup is loaded with nutrients and an ultrarunning favorite. So far I had eaten ramens twice and minestrone once. The volunteer mentioned that it was potato soup but my brain hadn't registered that the potatoes were in a cream sauce! I took a few spoonfuls down before it dawned on me and I threw the rest out feeling guilty for wasting food. It did not matter that it was only a few spoonfuls, the problem had been set in motion. I left the aid station and started my next climb of 1400 feet. A cold rain also started but the heat of the day balanced it out. I made it about 5 minutes uphill before the cream sauce mixed with the 5-Hour Energy much like the paper mache volcano models you make as a kid where you mix baking soda with vinegar. And then I hurled 3 times. There I was bent over at the waist with my head resting against a tree and the cold rain now pouring onto my back. A few tears from the violence of it all and then the mental torture begins to sink in: My nutrients are gone. I feel drained. I still have miles to go on a very difficult section.

I picked up what was left of myself, hiked the rest of the way up the mountain then started running slowly once I reached the top. I kept thinking about how difficult it was going to be to refuel and I was worried because I could not eat. Although I was taking in water I could not swallow a salt tablet without gagging. I met another runner along the ridge and shared my problem. He advised me that the next aid station had cots and that maybe a good 15 minute nap might rejuvenate me.

We navigated the mountain ridge that overlooked incredible valleys and a winding river. And along the way you could see below some perfect miniatures of farms. The sun was finally going down and I had a few miles ahead of me of solo night running. I leapfrogged with maybe 3 or 4 other runners and we each checked on one another to make sure everyone had lighting.

View from the ridge line

It was pitch black when I finally arrived at a parking lot just outside of the AS. A familiar voice tells me to go another 100 yards when I realize it’s my friend Mike that was volunteering at Edinburg Gap earlier this morning. He takes me to my friends Jim and Seth who will pace me one at a time for the last 40 miles. These guys have been waiting Friday and all day Saturday for their chance to start running. I told them about my forest food donation and as good pacers do, they immediately and efficiently start readying me for the next leg. They emptied my camelback of trash, refilled my water and handed me fruit because that was all that I could eat. I handed off my phone and Flip videocamera because I was done with the weight and the simple action to reach back into a pocket and turn the thing on seemed like a monumental effort.

Here we opened a present of mine in a box “Do not open until mile 63.1”. For my pacers I had custom black t-shirts made with white skulls and ‘Massanutten’ written on the back. With Seth, Jim and Mike around I forgot about that nap and Seth and I headed out into the night to climb Kern's Mountain. Alan Gowen’s 2010 race report described this with “Trail is nothing but rocks”. And he was right.

Seth Baum, Mark Leuner and Jim Bruening at Camp Roosevelt

AS #10 to AS #11 Gap Creek 1st Time 
9:05PM to 11:40PM
Mile 63.1 to 68.7 (5.6 miles, average pace of 27:41)

Clothing & Gear: Changed the singlet to a sleeveless. Carried a Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket Showers and thundershowers during the evening will give way to steady rain overnight. Low 59F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 80%. Rainfall around a half an inch.
Seth Pacing

“Hiked the entire muddy road and big climb that led me to the top of the ridge again.” - Garry Harrington 2010 Race Report
Up the jeep trail Seth and I went as the trail turned into rocks mixed with a stream of mud. We jumped from one bad side of the trail to the other to stay out of the worst of it. Occasionally one of us missed and landed in a few inches of water. I tested the stomach by eating some Fig Newtons and Seth was encouraging me to fuel. I could only take a bite the size of a fingernail, add water and swish it around till it was basically liquid. I still could not swallow salt which was worrying because I was taking in water and concerned about becoming hyponatremic. I also started to fall asleep while running and was countering this with sips of 5-Hour Energy which was the only thing I could take down besides water. If someone were to have been watching from the side of the trail I imagine it would have looked like Night of the Living Dead runs Massanutten.

Eventually we made it to Gap Creek which is draped in Christmas Lights and is also another party spot. This is the only AS where you pass by twice and people are everywhere. They were watching for runners returning for the second time while we were just about to start the 25 mile loop! At this AS I finally had to take that 15-20 minute nap and a volunteer put out a cot for me. I really did not care that it was a light misty rain and just wanted to sleep. I declined a blanket but thankfully he was thinking because I wasn’t. Even with the heavy blanket I became very cold in the 15 minutes I slept. Seth and Jim woke me up and Jim was holding a hamburger and a quesadilla. My pacers were doing the right thing trying to get me to eat but any thought of food now made my stomach turn.

Gap Creek Aid Station

AS #11 to AS #12 Visitor Center
11:40PM to 3:23AM
Mile 68.7 to 77.1 (8.4 miles, average pace of 26:33)
Jim Pacing

“The trail really can't be called a trail in the normal sense of the word. It's just a five mile long rock pile” - Alan Gowen 2010 Race Report

"Jim, we gotta slow down. You're flying, man."
“ I didn't have the heart to tell you that we just did a 29 minute mile until later. You were pretty crushed to get that news.”

I created these tags to be used as a section by section guide. The turn-by-turn directions are from the website. The section descriptions are from various 2010 race reports.

Jim and I started the climb up Jawbone Gap which is another brutal climb. I was panting, exhausted and thinking constantly about the time to the next cut off. For most of the course I had been at least 3-4 hours ahead of these cut offs but I knew now that I was slowing dramatically. To sum it up I was running on empty, I had just lost maybe 45 minutes at the last AS and dark thoughts started creeping into my head. I started falling asleep while moving forward and listing to the left and right with rocks all around. I was thinking about how I was on a collision course with one of the next cut offs and that my efforts to continue forward was a useful struggle which would likely result in a disqualification somewhere in the next 30 miles. The mind can rationalize anything when you are this tired and I started thinking maybe it would be better to arrive at the next aid station and see clearly that I was just coming up too short on time to continue.

These thoughts go against the fiber of my being and I was not myself. This was the only time I considered dropping and it was because I felt helpless. Even after I puked I knew I could continue because I had the strength to move on. But here I was, literally falling asleep on my feet against my will and thinking this was nearing the end. What I realize afterwards was that this was happening around my normal bedtime! Mix that with 20 hours of running and of course my body was desperate to shut down. My post race impression is that this must be a key time for runner's that are morning people because the desire to sleep overtakes all sense, all motivation. The body looks to satisfy the immediate need and if obliged, will end months of planning and hundreds of miles of training.

So what to do now? Stop. Think. I asked Jim to hold up and I reached into my pack and pulled out the pace chart with cutoffs. 7:30AM. The next cut off was Seven. Thirty. AM. Which meant I had 7 hours to run 7 miles! I was momentarily overwhelmed because it was at that moment that I knew I would finish. I returned to the race, refocused and it became fun again.

I took in two gels and we hit an unmanned aid station. Then we hit a nice jeep road in a thick fog and then it was a long downhill on a road with a light rain.

Seth had been waiting for us at the entrance to the next AS at 3:30 AM if he had not we might have missed it. The road ended in a T and the aid station was just over the hill in front of us where we could not see it. Had we turned right we would have gone downhill and even as I edit this weeks after the race I shudder to think about how much of a disaster that would have been!

We entered the tent and the rain was now coming down steady. They wrapped me in a warm blanket and towel and I sat in a chair under the tent. I chowed on some ramen soup and then took another 15-20 minute nap sitting up. Myself and the other runners were in a small circle and we were all napping in chairs, leaning forward with our heads in our hands facing each other. With our blankets and towels I heard we looked like a circle of cocoons. The pacers watched and waited patiently and whispered to one another about when to wake us up and the shape we were in. The knowledgeable aid station captain explained to them not to worry because this was common for this time of night. As long as the runners do no sleep so long that we want to stay the night, we will be ok.

4AM Coffee. The runner to my left is hidden inside of his blanket.

AS #12 to AS #13 Bird Knob 
3:23AM to 5:20AM
Mile 77.1 to 80.5 (3.4 miles, average pace of 34:25)
Clothing & Gear: Changed sleeveless to long sleeves, changed hat to lightweight beanie, Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket, SealSkinz waterproof gloves. 
Seth Pacing

“Next we climbed about 1000' to reach the highest elevation of the race 2900 feet” - Mike Campbell 2010 Race Report
I emerged from my cocoon and had a coffee and some cantaloupe and my stomach was beginning to return to normal. Seth and Jim got me geared up so that I was layered for the cold rain which was now nothing short of pissing down. I put on a pair of SealSkinz waterproof gloves and those gloves boosted me so that I felt absolutely confident part of me would be warm and dry while heading out into the cold driving rain. It was 4AM and Seth and I were the first of the sleeping runners out of the current group to start yet another mountain ascent.


We hiked, we ran and we arrived at the next AS with more of those helpful and friendly Massanutten volunteers who greeted us with real breakfast foods. I took in some fruit, had a coffee and sat in a chair next to a fire. I slept again for maybe 5 minutes while Seth ate some pancakes. As we were leaving here my second sunrise began.

AS #13 - AS #14 the Picnic Area
5:20AM to 7:48AM
Mile 80.5 to 86.9 (6.4 miles, average pace of 23:08)
Seth Pacing

“The last mile or so to the Picnic Area aid station (mile ~86) took forever. We finally made it in and I sat down to eat - I was starving. I ate about 7 pieces of bacon, no joke.” - Bedford Boyce 2010 Race Report
It was not long until the sun was up and I was feeling transformed. My legs felt tired like any back-to-back training weekend which is run 30 miles Saturday and run 20 on Sunday. Except this time it was run 80 Saturday and run 20 on Sunday. I felt invigorated and was looking forward to moving forward at a normal pace. We climbed some hills and had some technical descents and we were flying up and down these sections. In hindsight I think I may have overused my newfound energy. You see, I love technical running at high speeds and since I could run again we were moving pretty fast. Seth thought we must have passed about 15 people before I slowed down again.

I think Jim was a little shocked to see us arrive at the AS smiling and laughing. We were now within the final 15 miles and I was ready to complete Massanutten. At this AS we again met the girls that earlier had asked me to take my shirt off. I finally obliged and changed back into the black Massanutten shirt with the white skull. I plopped down in a camping chair and ate two breakfast sausages wrapped in a pancake and doused in syrup. It was dripping down my hand and I really did not care. Also I ate some fruit and another coffee and then I was good to go.

Sunrise brings new energy

AS #14 to AS#15 Gap Creek 2nd Time
7:48AM to 10:56AM
Mile 86.9 to 95.4 (8.5 miles, average pace of 22:07)
Clothing & Gear: Changed long sleeve back to sleeveless, dropped the jacket and beanie, put on a new hat and sunglasses. 
Jim Pacing

“We work our way up the seemingly never ending climb” - Alan Gowen 2010 Race Report
It was starting off as a very beautiful day and Jim and I took off down a short descent which was just before a 1500' climb. On the trail we ran into my friend Mike again who was doing a 40-mile training run as he prepared for the Vermont 100. It really is a positive thing to see people you know along the way when you are running a 100. Jim and I made our way over some streams by hopping from rock to rock and by carefully maneuvering around to keep from getting our feet wet. On one crossing we turned back to watch a pair of ladies as they splashed through the middle of that same stream and they flew by us! Another mark on the ultra experience checklist because we were chicked!

That 1500' climb was tough and after that it was slow going to make it down the jeep road that led to the AS. At 10AM after running for 30 hours, the sun was up and I really wanted to be done. We returned to Gap Creek for the second (and Last!) time and I went straight for the bug repellant and sprayed it in my ears. I already had on one type of spray on but that hadn’t stopped them from flying in my ears. So now with two types of spray the bugs would fly in and then fly back out! Also I went for the Vaseline because I was getting a little chafed and I did the application on the side that was facing the woods. What I hadn’t realized was that there was a group of people facing me in camping chairs and I flashed them while I did it. It was mile 95!

AS #15 to Finish
10:56AM to 1:23PM
Mile 95.4 to 101.7 (6.3 miles, average pace of 23:20)
Seth Pacing

“This is the second time during the race that I've climbed up Jawbone Gap, but this time instead to turning left and crossing Kern's Mountain, we go straight on the extremely rocky downhill trail toward Mooreland Gap.” - Alan Gowen 2010 Race Report
Mike Bielik, Seth Baum and Mark Leuner 

I took down two gels and Seth and I were out for the last haul to the finish line. That final climb up Jawbone Gap went fine but just over the top it required technical running and I was spent. We eventually hit the gravel road leading to the finish but it was 3.1 miles long. Prior to the road I had noticed hot spots on my feet around mile 50 which turned into blisters at mile 70 and then by mile 98 I was moving on a cushion of blisters. I will spare the details and summarize by noting that was agonizing and for the first time in running this was physical pain that I made a conscious choice to ignore. This gravel section was all downhill but because of the blisters I would stop running and walk whenever the hill became too steep. A shin splint on my left leg also returned and I struggled. Seth was very patient and I think he wanted to get me to the finish just so I could get off of my feet. After a long 3.1 miles we turned onto the final 0.5 mile which is a dirt road. And what did we find? A hill.

In 101.5 miles I may have stubbed my shoe a few times but I never actually tripped. But with 0.2 miles to go I was on a downhill and my foot hit a root and I almost ate it hard. I recovered but still came so very close to crossing the finish line with a face full of dirt.

Finally! We rounded the corner where I could see the tent and the finish line and I hear "Runner!". This came from the direction of the tent where I hear cheering and yelling. As we near the end Seth says to me “Show em what you got”. In that moment I forgot my exhaustion and my pain and sprinted to that finish line with everything I had. Kevin Sayers the Race Director shook my hand and then it was thanks to Jim and Seth for helping me survive the last half of that race. My race lasted 33 hours and 23 minutes.

Approaching the Finish
Photo by Bobby Gill

I went right to the barbecue and ate like I never had a moment of stomach distress. I cheered on some runners, showered, brushed, flossed and then went back to the tent to watch the last runners come in during a torrential downpour.

My Final Mistake: Later in the car ride home I treated about a dozen blisters, half of which were in pretty bad shape. That turned out to be the right thing to do but on this 5-hour ride home when we would pull over I really had trouble putting on my sneakers. This was not because of blisters as I was thinking but because my feet had swollen to the size of giant fuzzy slippers. I had read about this but hadn't remembered to keep the feet up after a 100 or to bring flip flops! Don't forget.

Pace per min per mile in red plotted over distance and elevation

Post Race
Massanutten is not a typical course for a first 100 and if you are considering it then I recommend having technical running experience and a pacer. Having two good friends as pacers worked really well for us. Jim and Seth took turns pacing at every aid station with access which kept things fresh for all of us and made the experience a team effort. The car served as the command post and whoever was not pacing would drive it to the next AS. Here we were also able to store lots of clothing for the three of us and food for Seth and Jim. Not only did they pace but they also functioned as a crew. They consulted one another on my condition and planned the last 40 miles. I really don’t think I would have made it without them.

Massanutten 2011 home movie I made with a Flip camera (Original version with explicit song lyrics) (Same movie with clean song lyrics)