Monday, January 5, 2009

Training run report - Boyer's Furnace 40-Miler

UPDATE 1/7: New pictures now included. One gross pic, so don't look while eating.

Sunday I had my first taste of the Massanutten Mountain Trail while participating in the Boyer's Furnace 40-miler. I chose to run 31 miles (50k) of the distance to keep my weekly mileage total a bit lower. I'm still ramping up my mileage after taking some time off in December due to injury, so it's important that I don't jump back into the mileage too quickly or I'll risk injury.

I carpooled down with my friend Amy (who recently joined Team Montrail, go Amy!). We left my car at the 31 mile mark then hitched a ride to the start from my coach, Mike Broderick. The usual VHTRC troublemakers were there, and by that I mean Gary Knipling was in attendance and was carrying around a Dallas Cowboys G-string. Why you ask? Well, it's Gary. That should be enough explanation.

The 20 or so runners gathered for a quick photo and at 7:15 we were off. We headed out of Roosevelt Gap on the Eastern Ridge and started making our way north. The forecast was calling for rain in the low 30's, aka sleet, so I donned my big and bulky rain coat since I figured that would be better than getting hypothermia up in the mountains. After a mile or so I couldn't bare the claminess of my rain jacket so I stashed it on my pack, thus adding an extra pound or so to the 70 oz of water and other miscellaneous crap I was carrying. After I got done strapping my jacket down, I picked the pace up to catch up with the group I had been running with. I passed Amy and, with most of her running lately having been on roads, she ever-so pleasantly admitted "oh man I'm gonna get schooled." How right she was. More on that later.

I got into a comfortable pace with Coach Mike and Tom Corris. I was in good hands since each of them had run MMT 100 at least a few times, so they definitely knew the trails. At every trail intersection I'd get briefed on where we were and what time of day it would be if we were running MMT. It was extremely helpful since I had no idea where I was. Around mile 6 we caught up with Greg Loomis (the RD) and Keith Knipling. At this point we knew something was up. Either we were going out too fast or something was wrong with Keith. Apparently he rolled his ankle so he was taking it easy and slowly navigating his way to the nearest aide station. Oh yeah, the first aide station was at mile 17! Talk about true ultra perseverance.

The view from atop the Eastern Ridge looking west

The five of us continued on together for a bit and eventually Keith backed off. Smart move on his behalf I'd say. The trails were vicious that day. It's a difficult trail to run on the nicest of days due to the sharp jagged rocks, some of which are loose, that cover so much of the ground that it's nearly impossible to actually "run" on many of the sections. It takes the cake as the most difficult trail I've ever seen (although I'm still young and naive, so what do I know?). But to add insult to injury, the trail was covered in many spots with nearly a foot of leaves. Knowing that there were rocks, we had to shuffle through the leaves and feel our way through the footing. This amounted to some blazing fast 20 minute miles!

At Veach Gap, mile 17, we descended into the valley and came to the first aide station. It was unmanned but Greg had gone out in the wee hours of the morning and dropped off the typical ultra fare: some water, soda, pringles, oreos, etc. (just another reason I love ultras - I can eat like a fat kid again!). There was a big ol' bag of double stuffed mint oreos. Mmm mmm mmm. I probably had a few too many, but hey, carbs are carbs! Tom had planted his car at Veach so he dropped there while myself, Mike and Greg continued on to the "dirt road" section of the course which lasted about 6 miles. I say "dirt road" in quotes because, according to my tour guide the RD, there used to be maybe one hunting cabin in this part of the valley and everything was dirt roads. Lately more folks have been purchasing second homes so the roads are getting paved. I could've sworn that we were in a recession and that most Americans drove SUV's... hmm... shows how much I know.

The dirt/paved roads were runnable until we hit the climb up onto the Western Ridge at Woodstock Tower. Sweet jebus that was a long climb (see the elevation profile below). Thankfully this was an ultra and running uphill is a no-no. Unfortunately walking fast uphill is no easy task either. The burning hip flexors showed us how out of shape we were after our holiday hibernating. Ouch.

As we headed south from Woodstock Tower we were presented with gorgeous views of the valley and also the Eastern Ridge that we just tackled. Not to say we didn't have similar views from the other side, we did, I just forgot to mention it. Most of the time I was up on the ridges I was playing a game with myself to see how long I could take in the view before needing to get my eyes back on the technical footing. I think my longest streak was about 1.5 seconds. Stupid leaves. The last 8 miles were similar to the first 17: technical, leafy and slow. When we hit mile 31 at Edinburg Gap, I was glad I had planned ahead and didn't have to run the last 9 miles. It had been a blast, but I was beat and I had gotten my fair share of time-on-feet and technical footing practice. It took us 7:18 to run the 50k distance. Definitely not a PR for me, but I needed those long, slow, technical miles to prepare for the upcoming ultra season, and you can't get better MMT training than running the MMT trails.

Coach Mike dropped with me and we sat there enjoying the aide. I was waiting for Amy to finish and figured she'd be about 30 minutes to an hour behind us, so there was plenty of time to chill and enjoy being out in nature. That's when Carter, another runner who had dropped earlier at mile 17 I believe, came up and asked if I was waiting for Amy. "Yeah." "Oh, did you hear what happened to her?" "F*ck." Remember when I passed Amy earlier and she said she was gonna get schooled? The girl is psychic (or maybe psycho, haven't quite wrapped my finger around this one yet). Around mile 6.5 she tripped and fell on either a sharp rock or a small tree that was recently cut down. She gashed her left knee open down to the bone. Luckily there were some runners 2 minutes behind her and they called an ambulance and arranged a meeting spot. Unfortunately that meeting spot was down the mountain at Habron Gap and it took them about 2 hours to make the hike down.

Getting some much-needed medical attention

Lesson to all you kiddos - watch your step.

I bolted down to the hospital expecting to see some poor, pathetic soul lying there all disappointed that she got rocked (literally) by the trail. Instead, this is what I saw:

Thumbs up if you got schooled by MMT trails!

She was in great spirits. Then again, she was getting some pretty sweet drugs and half her body was numb from the surgery, so I'd probably be in in a good mood too. Thankfully there was no bone, muscle or ligament damage. The tights she was wearing kept everything around her knee nice and together during the long hike down the mountain and they kept debris from getting into the open wound. The docs stitched her up and now her leg is immobilized for 10 days while the wound heals. After that the stitches will come out and she should be good as new and back to running like nothing ever happened. She's even still planning on running her first 100-miler, Rocky Raccoon, which is just 5 weeks away. The girl is a trooper, that's for sure! I'll be pacing her for that race, so I've got my work cut out for me (aka I'm the stump detector).

Amy's graphic illustration of how the day went

All in all it was an action-packed day. Up at 4am on little sleep, 2 hour drive, then 31 miles of super-technical footing and a little more than 6,500 feet of altitude gain in 7:18. Top that off with an unfortunate but hilarious trip to the hospital and the day definitely earned it's spot in the books. I'm still amazed at all the hospitality that was shown by the group of runners that helped Amy down the mountain, called EMS, and followed her to the hospital to make sure she was alright. The ultra community has some extremely caring and thoughtful individuals. The more ultras I do the more I realize this.

Thanks to everyone who sacrificed their run for the safety of others, and thanks for the good company from those that I had the pleasure of running with! With that, I'll leave you with a video depicting one of the many quotes of the day:

"It's just a flesh wound!"


Sophie Speidel said...


Wow, saw the photos on the VHTRC website and now read your report---Amy was really lucky there was no serious damage! The eastern section of the Massanutten trail is ridiculous (hell, it's all ridiculous). I ran Boyers a bit last year and told myself, "let's not run this next year---this trail sucks!"

You are in good hands with coach Mike. He paced me at my first MMT in 2005. Be sure to read my report of my meltdown on the MMT archives and how he was responsible for saving my race. :-)

See you at Gap 2 Gap!

BGill said...

I think I read your MMT report a while back, but I should probably freshen up on MMT stories to help mentally prepare! Unfortunately I'm only doing day #1 of the MLK weekend training runs, so I'll miss out on Gap to Gap. I was totally looking forward to the Brunswich Stew though!