2023 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run

The Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run (MMT 100) has been on Debbie’s running wish list for 20 years. Despite attempting the run for the first time, it will remain on her list of things to complete because she “retired” (at mile 38) before reaching the finish line of this past weekend’s race.

She noted the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC) used the word “retire” and not the usual DNF to describe her predicament. That feels better, but it still doesn’t take the sting out of falling short of a goal. Last week, we were talking about this with our 16-year-old son who is still learning to cope with the negative feelings one can have when falling short of a goal. Debbie told him it isn’t realistic to reach every goal you set. His personal best for the 1600 meter run has been stuck at 4:47 despite trying four or five times to lower it over the last month. Saturday, he had another track meet…and he ran 4:47 again. This is fast, but he wants to go faster. He will learn that you can’t just decide to reach a goal. There is a lot more to it. I’m confident that he will gain the wisdom necessary reach many goals in the future.

In her case, she wasn’t trying to run a fast mile, but rather to run 100 miles for the first time since coming up short at the Hardrock Endurance Run last July. It’s a bummer that she didn’t finish Hardrock or Massanutten. At least in the case of Hardrock, she previously finished it (in 2017). If she intends to finish Massanutten, she will have to try again. This situation is more like her 2014 Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run finish when she returned to complete the race which she failed to finish in 2013. 10 years later, maybe the same pattern will repeat and she will return to Massanutten to earn a coveted belt buckle. Debbie has been incredibly resilient and she has always managed her injuries well. This time, the circumstances were different.

Just getting to the start of the MMT 100 has been a journey. The main reason why this was her first attempt after years of desire is because most years, the race conflicts with the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races. This year, it conflicted again, but for the first time since 1999, she chose to miss Soapstone, a race that is as close to her as any other. It was her first ever trail running race, and she went on to be the Race Director for more than 17 years, so there was no option to do MMT 100. Missing a race that you are so closely associated with is a big deal, especially when you had a 23 year streak of being at the start as either a runner, a volunteer, or an RD. The good news is Soapstone is in good hands with our friends from the Shenipsit Striders, and it’s healthy to break these streaks.

The last time a big Livingston Family streak was broken was in 2015 when we missed the Vermont 50 to go to Japan for ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI. Like Soapstone, we had been there every year since 1999. In the case of the VT50, we missed, but then in 2016, we started a new streak. If Debbie opts to return to the MMT 100, then Soapstone will likely have to wait until 2025.

The irony is that it was physically possible to maintain our Soapstone streak because we drove back to Connecticut in time. However, that required nearly 500 miles of overnight driving in nasty weather. Since we had already made the decision to skip and because we should have still been out on the Virginia trails, it didn’t make sense to force the issue. Instead, we rested and recovered from a 44 hour adventure that included 1,000+ miles of driving, a night in a tent, and a lot of heavy rain.

The reason for Debbie’s “retirement” is a bum ankle. She went into MMT 100 with an injury, which is never a good thing. She has been battling ankle soreness since early April and hasn’t been able to resolve the issue. She said it was feeling better as MMT week approached, but 33 miles into the race at the Elizabeth Furnace Aid Station, it was hurting badly. She sat in a chair and I rubbed her sore calf and ankle, which was swollen. She was frustrated. I had last seen her at Edinburg Gap (mile 12) and she was in good spirits. At Edinburg, she was running strongly and having fun on a beautiful Saturday morning in the Shenandoah Mountains. She said she could feel the ankle, but it was holding up. Of course, 12 miles into a 100 mile run isn’t the time to be overconfident about anything.

Nearly five hours passed between when I saw her at Edinburg Gap and when she arrived at Elizabeth Furnace. I had time to explore the area around Elizabeth Furnace. I had my bicycle, so I rode towards Shawl Gap before heading over to the local airport. Then I rode back in time to rendezvous with her.

Apparently, the first 1/3rd of MMT 100 is the most technical and demanding. It gets slightly easier after that, but then the cumulative effects of every step start to take their toll. After I saw her at Edinburg Gap, she had to traverse a tough section of trail that required a lot of “side-hilling.” This is where the strain on her ankle got worse. By the time she arrived at Elizabeth Furnace, the pain was intense and the feeling in her ankle was like after her last long training run two weeks ago. She had rested the ankle since then, but “rest” in our household still means cycling, hiking, and a little running. She probably did too much running but that is what she does. She runs.

At the aid station, she opted to change socks, tape the ankle, change clothes, fuel up, and attempt a “reset.” Despite her mental fortitude, she struggled to make it five more miles to Shawl Gap Aid Station, and was visibly defeated when she arrived. I walked 1/4 mile up the trail to wait for her and I had to wait a lot longer than planned. Several arriving runners told me that she was going slowly when they passed her. When she arrived, she was limping badly, and favoring her other leg (which took a subsequent beating).

She said she couldn’t run the downhills or the flats, which was not good with 63 miles to go. She had been passed by dozens of other runners which is demoralizing. Other than this ankle problem, she was strong, but she couldn’t demonstrate that. Her stride was off, she had fallen once, and she risked further injury. The obvious decision was to hand over her number and transponder. We talked about the situation for a minute. Then she sat down in a chair, removed the four safety pins holding her number to her shorts, and handed it to me. I carried the items over to the aid station captain, which formally ended her MMT 100 attempt.

We put some ice on her ankle and she chilled in a chair for a few minutes while I gathered her gear. It started to rain a bit as we packed the car for the drive back to the start/finish where our tent was pitched in a field. As soon as we got on the road, it started to pour. The rain came down with serious intensity. It had been in the forecast, but the volume caught us by surprise. For a moment, it felt better to be inside the car rather than out on the trail. Of course, several hundred runners were still out there and they were going to have to battle the elements. There were many strong performances and we cheered for everyone we saw on the trails. This races draws a hearty crowd and they proved their mettle!

Throughout the afternoon, the rain came steadily and increased to downpours at regular intervals. We made the drive back to the Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp & Retreat Center. I packed up our remaining items, broke down the tent, and got everything to fit in the back of our Subaru Outback, including my bicycle. We found the bath house and rinsed off in the showers before starting the drive home around 4:00 P.M.

We stopped for dinner, and then kept going. We tried to find a hotel on route so that we could spend the night and finish the drive in the morning, but there were no vacancies. We even tried one hotel in person because the website said there were rooms available, but when I inquired in the lobby (it was after 11:00 P.M.), there was nothing to be had. We hit the road again. We pulled over at a rest stop and I closed my eyes for a few hours. When I awoke, we continued and pulled into our driveway around 4:50 A.M. It was an adventure for sure.

The VHTRC is fantastic. Though we didn’t get the full MMT 100 experience, we could tell that it is a beloved even with awesome volunteers. The aid stations that I saw were stocked full of great food options and staffed by smiling people. The race appeared to be organized in top notch fashion, yet it had a nice low key vibe. The people involved in a race (volunteers, runners, crews, families) make a race and that is why MMT 100 is a good one.

Debbie has some healing (and work to do) before running long again. She has several big goals remaining for 2023, so it’s important that she figures out this ankle thing. I know it will make her smile if our son goes and runs a 4:46 mile tomorrow, but she will also support him if he falls short of his own goal.

It’s too bad we didn’t get to experience more of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. Next time we have to spend more time in Virginia!

Race Results

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