(So Coach Nelle is a bit biased, but thinks Mory absolutely crushed executing his first 100 miler! Therefore she wrote the title for this blog post.)
May 20/21, 2023
+/- 18,500 feet
67% finishing rate
Friends, Family and Gratitude
That was my mantra for the race. Heading into race weekend, my wife Kate was out of the country on a long-planned trip and my daughters Anna (13), and Leah (11) were in Hampton Roads with my father-in-law for the state gymnastics meet. My son Isaac (16) was home with me in Harrisonburg and had a busy week with his district track meet. I was grateful for all the fulfilling activities, but as a family, we were certainly spread a little thin. Kate texted me from Costa Rica on race morning with wise advice, “Just stay in a state of gratitude and it will all come to you”. For their part, my daughters let me know that dropping was not an option. To get my mind right, I’d watched and rewatched AJW’s WSER speech on being "Confident, Resilient, and Faithful", but you never really know what might happen over 100 miles. I think accepting that uncertainty and vulnerability is part of the why. Luckily my parents Dick (80) and Diane (76) offered to drive up from Chapel Hill to help crew along with Isaac. And I had the gracious and generous support of three pacers: Nick Langridge, Rebecca Kurihine, and my coach Nelle Fox at Excel Rocktown Running.
It was my parents' first experience at a trail race and they were taken-in right away by the hospitality and spirit of community at the pre-race briefing. Being my first 100, we are all in a bit in awe of the runners who had completed the race 5, 10, or 20+ times.
This was the first year of GPS tracking for the race. I sent the link to a group text comprised of a combination of family and friends, new and old. The support from that group whenever I turned on my phone provided a boost throughout the race. Nelle did a great job providing updates and it was inspiring to see and hear the text chatter along the way.
The first 4th of the race seemed to fly by. The climb from the start up to Short Mountain felt relaxed and social. A fussy calf that had been bothering me for 4-5 weeks felt great and never gave me problems allmday. I fell-in with a good group and navigated the rocky trail on Short Mountain at a decent pace. After seeing my parents at Edinburg Gap AS (Mile 12), I was pleased to find the rocks mellowed out a bitmheading into Woodstock Tower (Mile 20). The volunteers at Powell’s Fort (Mile 26) provided great advice to hydrate for the exposed sections heading into Elizabeth Furnace (Mile 33), where I saw my parents for the second time and experienced my first example of the CREW acronym (Cranky Runner Endless Waiting) because the salted potatoes I’d planned to eat were not sufficiently salty for my liking. After that ridiculous behavior on my part, I left the AS feeling the weight of the 65+ miles to go. It was early afternoon and had gotten quite warm. Luckily I fell in with Greg from New Mexico and Amelia from Maryland for the next big climb over High Peak. They were veterans and exactly the company I needed at that point in the race. After passing a rattlesnake near the reservoir, we kept the pace super chill on the climb. Greg was one of several Senior or Super Senior runners who blew me away on the downhills (literally and figuratively) with mountain goat skills over rocky, steep descents. He also assured me it was okay to be tired at this point.
One of my favorite parts about the race experience was chatting with the other runners along the way and hearing about races they had run or would be running (Tushers, High Lonesome, Moab, Tahoe). After Shawl Gap (Mile 38), the three miles of gravel road to Veach Gap (Mile 41) were a welcome change of pace. I was in 105 th place at this point. The long climb after Veach Gap gave the impression of being on a never-ending escalator, but the footing was good and I chatted with Deb from VA about her career with the Coast Guard and sled-dog guiding in Alaska. The long ridge section after the climb was one of my favorite parts of the course. I was prepared for this 9-mile section to be hot, but luckily we were greeted with a cool rain shower and some very runnable trails. Feeling refreshed, I stretched out my strides for long sections and felt like I was moving well and moving up in the standings.
I used the 4-mile road section after Indian Grave (Mile 50) to load-up on calories and hydration for the 2440’ climb up Kennedy Peak after Habron (Mile 54), where I saw my parents again and also Isaac and Nelle for the first time and picked up Nick my first pacer for the 10-mile section to Camp Roosevelt. Having Nick with me on this section was huge. The sun set as we were climbing, and the day turned into what was a beautiful, breezy night for running. The ridge section after the climb was another highlight of the course and the setting for one of the most memorable pacer moments when Nick recited "My Heart's In the Highlands" by poet Robert Burns. That may have been a first in the 27 years of MMT. We caught up with Greg from Ohio, another veteran with 10+ finishes, who was planning to drive home the next day and who also dropped us on the downhill like a mountain goat. Completing this section felt like a significant milestone with the longest climb and the first three-fifths of the course behind us.
My nutrition to that point consisted mostly of Tailwind, Honey Stinger Waffles, and Wallaby’s Chews. I lost my taste for the waffles on this section. The last one I flung off the mountain side like a frisbee. Nelle took charge like the pro she is when we reached Camp Roosevelt (Mile 64), having me take time for Ramen and some soda. I thanked Nick, Isaac, and my parents, who themselves were approaching a 22-hour day, and set-off with Nelle feeling strong for the night section. I have to pause here for a note on Isaac: He has a wonderful smile. Seeing him at these aid stations, smiling and enjoying the race atmosphere was heart-warming and appreciated; it was Saturday night after all and he was spending it driving around the dark mountains with his grandparents.
Knowing that Nelle would pace me the next 24 miles was a huge source of comfort leading up to the race and earlier in the day when Mile 64 seemed impossibly far away. We moved really well up the climb and through the swampy Duncan Hollow section, reaching Gap Creek 1 in 83 rd place. The time spent power hiking during training paid-off during the overnight hours when it was harder to run the rocky sections. We climbed strong up to Kearns and then took our time on the super-rocky ridge line. We had a Keith Kipling sighting on this section as he flew by on uber technical trail. Nelle may have been channeling Scott Jurek on pacing at this point, because we more or less hauled ass down the following road section to the Visitor Center AS (Mile 78).
The climb up Bird Knob was steep but short and familiar from training. On my first training run up Bird Knob 5 months earlier, I simply could not comprehend making that climb with 78 miles on my legs. On race day, it felt like the first time I knew I would finish. The ridge-line greeted us with another milestone (Mile 80) and the first sights and sounds of daybreak, which combined with coffee at Bird Knob AS (Mile 82), left us feeling invigorated for the couple punchy climbs and then a long mostly downhill section to the Picnic Area AS (Mile 88). We ran with Keith during this section. It was one of those unexpected highs that you read about in ultra-running. All of a sudden, there was no soreness and my legs seemed light and fresh with energy to charge a few short up-hills.
After counting upward all day on miles, it felt good to be counting down for the last 20. I also knew there was a chance I’d get see Kate at the Picnic area. (She had flown into Richmond the night before and driven to the race on a few hours sleep).
We arrived at the Picnic Area AS (Mile 88) feeling strong. We saw my father-in law Bob and sister-in-law Rebecca and learned that Kate was just a few minutes away. Bob is a long-time marathoner with infectious enthusiasm for running and races and Rebecca is a bad-ass, known for flying over roadcourses pushing her two young children in a double-stroller. One of my pre-race goals was to be running when Kate arrived at the race, which I knew would take good pacing, smart decisions, and determination. She’s my rock and I knew seeing her would provide me with strength for the last miles. Kate arrived with a big hug and a warm smile. It was the first time I’d seen her all week and the highlight of the day, but we had 12ish miles to go, so catching-up would have to wait. We thanked Nelle and headed out feeling good.
Leaving the AS, I told Bec that no one had passed us in hours and we were going to keep it that way. After which two veterans (Greg and another gentlemen who had been asleep at Bird Knob) promptly passed us on the next downhill. We caught them on the last big climb but they pulled away again after that.
The two segments after the Picnic Area are where I made my most significant tactical mistakes of the day. We’d come so far, and I was so excited about finishing that I started to let up on fueling and hydration. But 12 miles is still 12 miles. My reservoir ran dry prior to Gap Creek II (Mile 97) but for some reason I thought the tube was just kinked. Trail brain. My feet started to swell and get tender. It hurt to walk or run, so we ran the dirt road down from Gap Creek back to Start/Finish area. The last half mile or so of trail once we were back on the camp property was the second episode of being a cranky runner. But after some ridiculous cursing and griping about the trail on my part, we gratefully arrived at the finish shoot after 30 hours and 22 minutes. 58th place overall.
Despite those missteps, I think we ultimately passed about 50 runners in the last half of the race and were caught by just a few.
Reaching the finish line is something I will forever remember. Kate, Isaac, my parents, Bob and Rebecca were all there. I was grateful to share the experience with them and for their support. Grateful for the support from old friends following along from afar and the shared time on the trail with new friends.
Grateful for my pacers. Grateful for Nick’s spirit, for Nelle’s coaching and wisdom, and for Bec’s strength in bringing it home. Grateful for Dr. David Glazer who helped me work through some nagging issues that made it hard to run at times leading up to the race. Grateful to the folks at Virginia Happy Trails Running Club for hosting a tremendous race and for all the volunteers and excellent aid stations. Grateful for the beauty of the Massanutten Mountains and for being able to call them home. Grateful for the support from Kate and the kids for all the time spent training. I was grateful for the good fortune of a stomach that never went sour and for feet that were blister-free. When it was hard, I’d tried to be grateful even for the rocks that define MMT, including the ones that were just lying around doing nothing useful or the ones in the creek bed at Mile 95 that seemed to be arranged in a defensive formation specifically to keep us from passing. Some of those rocks I may have cursed a little.
Sunday afternoon was beautiful, warm and breezy. We cheered-on other runners at the finish for a few hours, most of whom I’d shared some time with on the course. We’d planned to stay for the awards, but I was starting to spike a fever, so we headed home early. Something to look forward to for next time.