Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile, Front Royal, Virginia

Elevation Gain: 19,200''; High Point: 2800'

May 17-18, 2008 - Participating at the Massanutten 100-mile event has been an objective on my radar for awhile now since pacing Mike Monyak for about forty miles on the back half of the course in 2005. John Goss and I had followed Mike during the daylight hours then from aid station to aid station with a bit of crewing, before I jumped in to pace him overnight for about forty miles from the Visitor Center on Route 211, just shy of the half way point. I had never done anything like this before, so the adventure intrigued me. We ran and hiked together up over Bird Knob and then north over Short Mountain before I passed the pacing responsibilities to John to help see Mike to the finish. Massanutten was tough, but I have seen tougher, so set myself up mentally to accept the challenge.

Getting into this race was, in and of itself, quite fortuitous. Online entries closed in just 45 minutes after opening. I happened to anticipate the rush and signed up as soon as it opened to guarantee a spot on the starting line. Mike made it into the race at the eleventh hour after watching the waiting list shrink for months prior to the event. With John Goss and Bob Lott in tow for support, we again made the pilgrimage to Front Royal to race in "the toughest hundred east of the Rockies". Did I say race?

Skyline Ranch Resort

After setting up Mike's stadium-size tent we proceeded to chow down at the pre-race spaghetti feast and listen to RD Stan Duobinis direct the pre-race announcements. After a bit of walking around and socializing afterwards, sleep came easy when my head finally hit the pillow, as it usually does, so I was ready to jump when people began to stur after four o'clock to be on the line for the 5 a.m. start. Contestants and support personnel milled around in the dark in anxious anticipation. Temperatures were just right so no one was shivering or unnecessarily overdressed. Mike had repeatedly advised me to start slow and hold back, so that was my plan. I had hoped to run with Mike for awhile, but somehow we became separated at the start and never ran together during the race.

I literally poked along during the first two-and-a-half miles on the road leading away from the Skyline Ranch Resort Club House before we hit single track up through the woods. Looking for Mike among the bobbing head lamps and flashlights, I figured he must be ahead of me when we finally hit the woods. Buzzard Rock Trail took us straight up a rocky, wet, winding route to a ridge where we were greeted by a remarkably beautiful red Shenandoah sunrise, much like this.

Massanutten Mountain Sunrise

My disposable flashlight was fairly worthless for the first hour as I stumbled several times and fell hard one time, losing some hide. A fall this early in a race is always unsettling. I took it easy thereafter until there was some ambient morning light; dozens of runners passed me at a snappier pace. I was happy to let them run away from me.

Daylight picked me up and I continued with a more confident pace to the second aid station at Shawl Gap at about nine miles. I stopped for a nature break before the aid station and just took a breather as I squatted and watched, again, dozens of runners blaze down the hill toward the aid station. Footing was rough with wet rocks that required extra attention and care in negotiating the trail. After generally backing off to this point, I had plenty of run left in me to stride out when we hit the road for three miles or so to the next aid station. I took up with a runner I knew from a previous race and continued with him until Camp Roosevelt at 34 miles, where I would change clothes and access my drop bag.

I took ten minutes at Camp Roosevelt to drink, relax, change shirts, and socialize with John, Bob, and some other folks. After having covered a third of the distance by noon in just seven hours, I felt good despite the challenging trail footing. John told me Mike was over an hour behind, which surprised me. Up to this point I believed I had not caught him yet. The sun was warm after noon as I headed south without the company of my previous companions. After going solo up a long stream bed it became apparent that my right knee was more painful than one would hope for. All the extraneous lateral movement of the ankles negotiating the slippery rocks was taking its toll on my knee. I slowed to accommodate the discomfort, but knew I was probably in trouble.

While running with a couple other guys we came upon a large rattlesnake coiled right next to the trail. The serpent was obstinate and would not retreat, despite our efforts to get it to move. When we hit the aid station, volunteers went back up the trail and placed a sign on the trail to warn other runners of the troublemaker. Mike said three rattlers were spotted during the race. I saw Bob and John at the water stop before reaching Route 211 and told them I was considering withdrawing. By the time I saw them again at the highway crossing at 5 p.m. I was walking down hills. There was little debate about whether to quit or not; my knee was making a clicking sound and it felt and sounded like bone on bone. I needed to get off my feet. After a short rest in the van, my knee stiffened and precipitated my withdrawal. I would save what was left for another day. I had only 48 miles of racing in me this day. The race proceeded without me.

We followed Mike in support in the van for the balance of the race until his 33-hour ninth finish the next day at 2 in the afternoon. Bob and John took turns pacing through the night, while I remained immobilized in the back seat. If there is one thing I regret missing by dropping out, it is the sound of the many whip-poor-wills that serenade at night in the Shenadoah Mountains. After pacing Mike previously, it is the one thing I was looking forward to most. It was magical!

In retrospect, I made the right decision to stop rather than continue to aggrevate my injury. DNF's are never the result one wants to see after all the commitment and preparation to participating in such an event, but I've had a few withdrawals like this before and I have generally bounced back to do better the next time because of the mental torment that follows a DNF. Perhaps I'm not serious enough about these contests, but I refuse to needlessly suffer when I remember how much I normally enjoy running and how much fulfillment it brings me. Injury deserves a break; sometimes that break comes before the end of a race, unfortunately.

I'm glad I did Massanutten, but I don't expect to do it again.

SPLITS from 0500 start

Cum. Miles
Larry's Time
Mike's Time


Stan Duobinis  
RD Stan Duobinis in front of Club House