Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Race – did 106 miles up and down rocky mountain slopes (missed a turn and had to go some extra distance). This event should be called an “obstacle course”, not running.
Result: 20hr 26 min, 2nd place overall (from 200 pre-qualified athletes). 46 people didn’t finish, average finish time – over 30 hours.
Black bears, rattle snakes, and other wild animals on the way. Drank 80 oranges (freshly squeezed) on the go. If you know any better way to spend a weekend, please let me know.
Here are few more details:
I trained for this race since December 2012, but didn’t start it at my best form due to fast 50k race at Bear Mt
just two weeks prior to MMT100.
Elena (my awesome friend, crew, and pacer) and I camped out the night before the race. We both got decent amount of sleep due to Elena’s good and timely planning of drop bags and other race logistics issues. I had nothing to worry about, and was ready to get up and just enjoy the run.
Elena: “This was fun# 1. Denis: “You have your own tent, right?” ME (looking confused): “You said you had a big one…” HIM: “Big? I said bigger than at Virgil, but not big..” This is how our camping experience started!”
My “big” tent
At the starting line
Ready for 20+ hours of fun
First miles were not technical and I ran in a large leading group (a dozen of people) for about 6 miles. When more rocky terrain replaced smooth road and trail, myself and Jason Lantz (last year’s winner) took the lead. The most memorable part of these early miles was running into a large black bear. Jason spotted it on a side of our trail few dozen feet ahead, said “Ooh, look, a black bear! Let’s chase it…”, and sprinted towards it. After some hesitation I followed Jason and we saw a large bear retreating up the hill into dense woods.
While running on rocky trail (my favorite running surface) with Jason, I took several hard falls, hitting hard my both knees and left wrist. It was unusual and alarming to trip so early into the race, when I’m still fresh and the trail is well lit up by bright sun. Normally I can run long time without any issues on this kind of running surface. Probably the problem was that the size of those sharp rocks was a bit smaller than those on which I train at the Bear Mountain.
Shortly afterwards we were chased down by Patrick McGlade and three of us ran together for an hour or two. On the less technical road sections Patrick was pushing the pace and I made a mistake of trying to keep up with his uncomfortably high speed so early in the race.
Around mile 30-35 I finally let Jason and Patrick go. However, some damage has already been done and I needed to recover a bit. This is when James Blandford flew past me up on the rocky hill. I didn’t expect to see anyone so close to our leading group and I also didn’t know that James has completed MMT100 several times already and was 3rd last year. Moving to 4th position shortly after running in the lead felt pretty discouraging for me.
I was even thinking about dropping out at the next station. I wasn’t sure that I can finish this absurdly technical course with my muscles suddenly shutting off already at mile 35. I was blaming this shut down on my fast race 2 weeks ago and was almost ready to quit, but wasn’t sure how I could say it to my amazing crew and pacer – Elena… So I didn’t say anything and kept running. I also made my crew work harder than anyone’s else. I had few different nutrition options for this race – bottled juices and smoothies, gels, dates, and fresh oranges to be juiced right before I stop at each station. By mid-point of the race my body made it clear that the only source of fuel that it will accept today is freshly squeezed OJ. I told Elena that I need a bottle of it at every aid station going forward…
We had a box of juice oranges (100 total) and an electric juicer. The original plan was to plug it in the car’s outlet (with a converter), but we have already blew Elena’s car fuse with my electric massager that I used on the way from New York the day before… Fresh OJ would go bad pretty quickly so we couldn’t make any in advance to be placed in the drop bags. Elena quickly became regarded as the most unlucky one amongst crew people at each station, having to juice bunch of oranges at each station because her demanding runner is refusing to run on anything but fresh OJ. There was no way I could finish without the juice, it certainly helped me bounce back to life.
It took me about 20 miles to recover, and by mile 55-60 I was ready to go fast again, but this time i needed to use my resources more carefully, with some strategy.
Around mile 70 I caught up with Patrick. He was laying down at the aid station, the race was over for him. James was in lead by about 1 hour. I was only about 30 min behind Jason and getting closer.
Jason Lantz at the aid station, after running about 70 miles
Elena joins me as a pacer at the aid station and I finally catch up with Jason (some time before mile 80) and we run together. Meanwhile James is still going fast and with only 20 miles to go it becomes clear to us that chasing him is pointless. The nearest runner behind us is pretty far away, so it seemed like regardless of the speed at which Jason and I would be running remaining miles, the 2nd and 3rd place would be decided between two of us. We both considerably slowed down as it was getting dark (again) and as we didn’t have to race against anyone else. Another highlight of the day was a rattlesnake that was laying right on our trail. Jason ran at the front that time, immediately followed by myself and Elena. Suddenly he jumps on the side of the trail and I instinctively follow him. Still standing near the snake, Jason gives us a short lecture on the mechanics of rattle snake’s attack and says that he can make a little demonstration for us by poking the snake with a stick. We talk him out of this idea and keep going…
I felt relatively good and right at the 86-mile aid station Elena and I went ahead while Jason was taking a break. We became so consumed by our break-away that we missed a turn from the road back into the woods (right after that aid station). It took us about 10 minutes to realize that we’re lost. We were running quite fast downhill and the idea of turning around and going back up to look for the course markers was rather painful. Overall we lost what felt like about 20 minutes.
As we found the course and were back on the mountain trails, my blood was flooded with adrenalin while I was mad at myself. I didn’t want to let our navigational mishap at the end of the race to influence the placing at my first MMT100 race. All of the sudden I feel as fresh as 19 hours ago, almost 90 miles back, before the race started. I sprint on the dark trail with 7-8min/mile pace, determined to catch Jason before I run out of miles. Looking back at this sprint now, it feels great to be able to run rocky uphills even at the end of 100mi race.
To my surprise, I caught Jason already at the next aid station. He did not expect to see me there as he thought that I was ahead of him since mile 86. This sudden gift made him visibly more energized and remaining miles we both ran all-out. I was able to break away (again) about 6-7 miles before the finish and finished in 2nd place with 20h 26m, only 5 minutes ahead of James. First woman (Robin Watkins) finished 5 Hrs later. Most people finished after 30 hrs.
James Blandford, the winner (18h 31m, the 8th fastest time in history of the race)
I think I underestimated the course difficulty and time that I need to fully recover after Bear Mt 50K race. Pretty happy with 2nd place in these circumstances. After finishing I felt like I had some reserves left, but was glad that I didn’t have to use them… Fantastic adventure, very well-organized race. Highly recommended!
Elena’s (aka “Pacer KGB” or “Professional Juicer”) race report:
My MMT experience can be described in just few words: a box of oranges, a juicer and a hell of a run.
The “oranges” part started at 4am on Sat morning (right after the start) and continued throughout the day all day. It was my 3rd time crewing in a 100-miler, but this one was the most demanding task by far. None of the aid stations overlapped, so I constantly had to drive around the course trying not to be late and that was not easy as Denis was going very fast.
I printed each set of directions in great detail ahead of time as I knew there would be no cell phone service. Between my own google maps and very detailed directions from the MMT site, I nailed that task and never got lost.
Trying to produce freshly squeezed orange juice from the box of oranges and an electric juicer that Denis gave was not as easy. I had to use camp bathroom outlets couple of times, generators from aid stations and just be very creative.
At one point at mile 69 Denis told me that fresh orange juice was the only thing working for him and he needed that and only that for the rest of the race (another 30+ miles) and he basically said needed juice more than me pacing if this became a deal breaker. I knew at this point that if I still wanted to do my run (which I did!), I had to take care of the juice part first as this was way more important. Thanks to aid station generator and some logistics what worked in my favor, this part worked out and he had his preferred fuel for the rest of the race and I could still run.
The “run” part started for me at 7pm at mile 78 and I ended up running about 27 miles with Denis in 5.5 hours. My only goal was to have a nice long training run for myself on a technical and hilly trail at much faster pace than I would do on my own. So, calling me a “pacer” would be wrong as I was actually using Denis as my pacer but I hope my lovely company did help at least in some way. I got dropped by Denis 2 times and I kept working hard trying to catch him which I did once at an aid station and almost did 2nd time as I finished only few min after him. Second time he dropped me was when he was RUNNING up the steep mountain after having 97 miles on his legs and I could not keep up and had to power hike that climb. Everyone I asked about that climb (including the race winner!) said they hiked it, not ran. Well, obviously not Denis! It was truly amazing to witness how someone can run that fast at 80-90-100 miles. But my personal goal of trying to stay with him as much as possible was 100% accomplished and we both got what we wanted out of this weekend. As an added bonus to the run part, I also learned something new about wildlife: I saw 2 big rattle snakes and another crazy looking animal with giant yellow eyes staring at me in the middle of the night from the side of the road.
I ran so fast from this one, I had no idea I could even run that fast after already running for 5 hours!
As a conclusion, I would like to say just one thing: “Crewing in a 100 is a very hard task, but crewing a frutarian in a 100 is a whole new level of extreme, but it surely adds to the fun part.” I am happy we did so well together I am ready for new races and adventures! Team CCCP rocks!
Photos by MountainPeakFitness and Elena Makovskaya.