Massanutten Mountain Trail 100M, Fort Valley, VA 4,5

Elevation Gain: 16,200'; High Point: 2880'
May 14, 2011 - For quite some time I looked forward to running again at 
Massanutten.  It is a course I swore I would never come back to, but an
endeavor that I felt I needed to accomplish, perhaps as a matter of pride,
perhaps as a rite of passage to segway onto other difficult ultra events.  
The race would tell me a lot about my capabilities, so I prepared in 
earnest and toed the line with confidence that I had what it took, 
mentally and physically to meet the challenge this day.

The weather was rainy, but I've become accustomed to taking whatever
nature dishes out, even deliberately training in the worst of conditions to
prepare mentally and experiment with how to dress when things get bad.
The event had changed to a new venue at Caroline Furnace since the
last time I had toed the line here, up over Edinburg Gap, and not too far
from the aid stations at Camp Roosevelt and Gap Creek. It was a better
place to start from in a lot of respects, but the parking was atrocious with
all the rain making traction challenging to say the least.

After the usual fitful night sleeping in the car while it rained intermittently
outside, I awoke with everyone else at about three a.m. to prepare for
the start at four o'clock.  Surprisingly, there was no rain in the morning,
with temperatures hovering at about sixty degrees.  I dressed anticipating
rain showers for much of the day, but the forecasters had been entirely
wrong until late in the day.

The first three-and-one-half miles are mostly on gravel roads, rising about
600 feet in elevation to Moreland Gap where the the trail cuts north into
the woods on single track.  I moved easily on the roads at a steady four-
to five-miles-an-hour pace, without exertion or enthusiasm.  The running
was easy, but it was immediately apparent that the humidity was high.
All systems and attitude were good.

Several whippoorwills called out into the darkness of the early morning, as
a few had done the night before.  The call of this strange little bird in the
dark of the Shenadoah Mountains is alluring, even mystical.   A large part
of the appeal of participating in this event is the calls of the whippoorwills.
I can never say enough about how their eerie calls move me.

Within a half mile of turning onto the trail I took a fall on the rocks.  It was
level and unremarkable; I caught the tip of my shoe and went down 
quickly, losing light and water bottle, absorbing most of the impact on my
right knee.  After gathering my light and bottle I bounced back up and
proceeded forward.  I could feel my knee so looked at it quickly with the
flashlight to see a nice inch-and-a-half gash on the top of the knee cap.
There was the expected pain with each step, but I continued forward
as before, perhaps being even more diligent watching my footing.  

Looking back at my knee I could see blood oozing down the front of my 
leg.  I wasn't overly concerned except for the fact that I would have a
bloody long run this day.  Nothing worse than getting hurt so early in a
long run. I continued up, up, and up over Short Mountain, negotiating
a seriously rocky trail (See upper right picture).  The knee pain and the
blood were steady, but didn't seem to restrict my gait or effort.  For the
most part, it was something I could live with.

The darkness burned off enough by 0530 so that a flashlight was not
necessary to dance with the rocks.  There was no real sunrise as the
mountains were enshrouded with low hanging clouds and misty fog.
The humdity was still high, but the air was still cool enough that running
was comfortable.  I had no difficulty moving along the rocky trail and
not only did not fall the rest of the day, but didn't even stumble bad.

I continued this way through the Edinburg Gap aid station and onto 
Woodstock at about twenty miles where I had a drop bag.  My only 
thoughts were to change into a dry shirt, re-stock, and continue on.
My objective at Woodstock was to arrive there at about 0900.  My time
from the Splits was 8:43, so I was a bit ahead of a 4 mph pace.  Good.
I sat down to go through my drop bag and change clothes.  A volunteer
handed me a wet wash cloth to clean off my bloody leg.  I did so and 
got a good look at the damage.  The inch-and-a-half cut was about a half
inch deep and worthy of attention.  A kind nurse named Carter showed
concern, but didn't have a butterfly or even gauze, but she did craft a
butterfly out of duct tape while I watched.  Actually it was a pretty good
dressing, but I knew the gash would continue to bleed plasma with 
every step.  There was no question that I would continue.  I didn't even
entertain stopping when Carter asked me about it.

With clean shirt and socks and new supplies of gels and electrolytes I
headed off down the trail with a clean leg and new dressing.  My next
drop bag would be at 32.6 miles at Elizabeth Furnace, so knowing I was
a bit ahead of schedule I was confident I could reach it by my objective
of noon.  With a bit of consistent running I could allay the pain in the
knee, probably from the endorphins.  I knew that wouldn't last all day,
but it was working for now.  

I was doing well descending down into Powell's Fort at 25 miles and didn't
waste any time transitioning and moving up a gravel road toward a rocky
climb that would see me up and over to get to my next drop bag.  The
fog was burning off as the temperature climbed quickly to 70 degrees
late in the morning.  This brought out a swarm of annoying insects that
were difficult to chase while walking up the hills.  After I got over the top
I cut loose on the trail for a good stint at 5 mph, passing a few people
as I was progressing nicely.

On the long descent down into Elizabeth Furnace it became apparent that
my knee was swelling from the fall, making it difficult to absorb the shock
of going down hill without pain.  My knee became increasingly inflexible.
Still bleeding generously I was forced to begin to walk downhill and on the
level due to reduced mobility.  My options were becoming increasingly
obvious.  It was either mostly walk for the next twenty four hours, in
pain, foregoing treatment on a wound that needed medical attention, or
do the right thing and stop.

I quickly parked my pride and ambition and walked into the aid station
with my decision made.  The nurse from mile 20 had been concerned
enough to drive around to this aid station just to meet me out of her
concern.  She did not want to advise me to stop, but supported my
decision wholeheartedly, as she dressed my wound a second time after
I cleaned up my leg once again.

Some bystanders said I was BEST BLOOD, a distinction that didn't 
generate much affinity on my part.  But you can see for yourself below:


I caught a ride back to my car with another guy - Tom Corris - and his 
crew of wife Kristin and mother Madge.  A veteran of several finishes
here, Tom had cartilage problems in his knee and stopped right behind
me.  We drove around and picked up drop bags, saving me a lot of 
work.  I enjoyed a couple hours with these folks and greatly appreciated
their help in taking care of me.

I hated to stop for such an injury, but really had no choice. I've run other
events to the finish with blood and bruises, but this injury was not going
to allow me to go on.  Five days after the event, my gash is healing nicely,
without stitches, but my knee is still so bruised that I cannot bend it
very far.  The overall experience has me reluctant to engage in such long
endeavors when conditions are so challenging.  Given the accumulation
of all my years of running and the resulting injuries and scar tissue, I am
just not as resilient at gliding over rocky trails as in days of yore.

Will take some time off to heal and make a new plan for the future.
Massanutten is still an incredible challenge, but brutal beyond the common
person's understanding.  My hat is off to multiple finishers of this event.