For the uninitiated, The Ring is a circuit of the entire 71-mile orange-blazed Massanutten Trail in the George Washington National Forest, on the ridgelines of the eastern and western ranges of the Massanutten Mountains around the Fort Valley, roughly between Front Royal and Luray. The “trail” is hard, rocky, and slow. Sections of the trail have been around in some cases for centuries, but the entire, uninterrupted, 71-mile Massanutten Trail was not completed until 2002.
The Virginia Happy Trails Club immediately pounced on this trail on completion. Two members, Chris Scott and Anstr Davidson, were the first to complete the Ring. This got the ball rolling, and every fall, more runners are iniated into the Ring.
This is a FatAss Event. Except Virginia Happy Trails does this up. Aid stations, drop bag support. These AS stayed opened all day and night, even supporting us slow poke runners to the very end.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself. (Sigh. This shall be long.)
Friday, Cam Baker, Jim Harris and myself drove down. We went over to Bird’s Knob, to see what that trail was like, since it is not on the Massanutten Trail (but part of the MMT 100 Race course.)
On the first 1/2 mile of the climb, in the same old shoes and socks I’ve worn before, hot spots are developing on my heels. I stop to adjust the sock, then stop again to tie the shoes tighter. Nope. I can already feel the blisters on each heel. I quit fussing about it, and enjoy our 8 miles we spend up on the ridge.
I’m planning on taping the bottoms of my feet anyways, so now I will also tape my heels for the run on Saturday.
After a very nice meal with members of the VHTRC Friday night, I awake to “your waffle is ready” made by one of the RD’s, Quatro. Freshly made waffles and sausages and coffee race day morning? Sweet!!
Pre-race picture. I’m still nervous and apprehensive about the trails out there. I believe Mike Bur said ‘okay, go’ and we were off! to the sounds of an accordion player. So light-hearted and happy. Most of the field passed me quickly, and I was left alone, as usual. Right across the road was Elizabeth Furnace. The first miles passed by quickly and uneventful. I was worried about water. We’d been told no water at Veach Gap, but at Milford Gap, about 13 miles in. There was aid, at Milford, and I ate, and filled both my 2 Liter hydration pack and one hand held. It was a warm day, and I had drained all earlier.
Carolyn Gernard had caught up to me at this AS, and we began to stay together at this point. I believe I was a bit faster than Carolyn, as I felt my pace was just a tad too slow behind her-I didn’t feel like I was working hard enough. But this didn’t bother me, as I had no prior knowledge on this course. At this point, like many ultras, the goal is to just make it to the next AS.
And chatting with Carolyn got the song out of my head. We are running on the ridge line, which means we are literally on top of the mountain. On this trail, you can see off to the east….and off to the left. I had this terrible Carpenters song stuck in my head for miles:
” I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation
And the only explanation I can find
Is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around
Your love’s put me at the top of the world”
Yeah, you get that in your head for miles!!!!
Carolyn is a total knowledge geek about the Massanutten Trail, and I’m so lucky to be running with her! She knows every cross trail, she knows what is upcoming, I felt like I had my own private tour guide for this run!
This is a section of trail, as we approached Waterfall Mountain. Kind of uneventful, with a gradual climb. It looks like this section has burned recently, lots of young sassafras trees here.
We also caught with Jason, that also ran at Laurel Highlands. He was struggling, but it seemed to rejuvenate him a bit to have some folks to chat with as we approached Waterfall Mountain.
At the bottom of Waterfall Mountain. Not currently used in the MMT 100, but has been in the past. Carolyn told us that it is 2400 steps. She counts to get her up the mountain. It’s short but steep. I start counting also. OMG. I’m at only 200? I resolutely keep counting. Carolyn announces 1000 and I start over again. Then I just give up and follow steadily up the hill. Jason stops for a rest and I pass him. We keep going. I stop for a moment, to see where Jason is. No movement below. I keep going.
Carolyn is good with the carrot and stick reward. She warns of what is coming, but then re-assures what is ahead. Which is another aid station, not far after we reach the top. Carolyn is way ahead of her normal pace, which everyone at the AS is very happy about. We both eat up; I change out of my nasty salt-encrusted singlet for a YUT-C shirt and we up and on on Kerns Mountain.
After Waterfall Mountain, Kerns doesn’t seem that ‘bad’ to me. We’re boulder hopping, and climbing, but we’re trying to get as much trail in now that we can before dark.
I believe we hit the Moreland Gap AS, and then started up Short Mountain in the dark.
On Friday, Slim and I are driving along I-81, and he remarks “wow Short Mountain sure looks intimidating from here” and I look at this MOUNTAIN that I am going to run UP and then down! Now I am actually doing it!!!!
Carolyn starts to fade a bit on me on Short Mountain. She mentions she might have to stop and take a nap to regroup, and just wants to let me know. I tell her that is fine, I will just grab my windbreaker from my drop bag (her crew member, Chris, has been shuttling my bag along with Carolyn’s for many miles) so that Chris can stay with Carolyn.
But before long, Carolyn’s stomach rebels on her. It’s the start of quite a few puke festivals. I feel bad for Carolyn. I don’t know what to do. Really, there’s not that much I could do. We slow down, way down, and continue our way. Now Carolyn’s nap has turned into “just get off this mountain” and we continue down.
Carolyn is concerned about me and my run, and says to go on ahead. I tell her of course I’m not going off and leave her sick on the mountain! I have no pre–conceived times for this, as I have never done it before. And I would never leave a sick person out there on the mountain! I’m grateful I’ve had her as my own personal tour guide for the MMT Trail!
But it is long and slow off Short Mountain. We get to our aid at Edinburgh Gap. I have the famous soup here, and ask about the next section of trail. Now I am on my own for the run! Bedford tells me it is 8 miles and change and rather boring.
Well, boring is good, I think, after Kerns and Short Mountain. I head off into the night. The first two miles or so go well. Then the sleep deprivation kicks in, and I’m struggling. Struggling badly, in the wee hours of the morning. Typical ultra stuff, except I haven’t experienced it for quite some time. I know my stomach can’t handle more caffeine pills, in fact, I’m delicately putting food in now. I wish I had brought music to amuse me.
I lean up against a tree and close my eyes for a few seconds. That doesn’t help. In fact, it seems to make me more dizzy. Using my second light to look for blazes, as I pick my way through rocks, and my anxiety over staying on the trail, seems to be the only thing to keep me going.
I get to Waterfall to very enthusiastic Caroline Williams and company, AND Carolyn and Chris. I’m pretty numb at this time. Carolyn nervously tells me my drop bag is Lost. Okay. She asks if there is anything important in it, like car keys. I ponder that, and say no. I’m really so punch drunk at this time, it doesn’t matter to me. All I want to know is, how far to Powell’s Fort, cuz I know Signal Knob is after that. And MAYBE sometime, dawn will occur!!
I’ve been thinking about sun rise since 3 am. I know I will get a second wind when the sun breaks. At this point, I am singing songs out loud to myself. And talking. Anything to keep me going. There are these disgusting wormy caterpillars that only seem to come out at night, and I shriek when I touch one on a tree.
Morning finally breaks. I can finally stop looking for the orange blazes with the light. I can know see them. I can finally get this headlamp off my head.
Slim has warned me about the run to Powell’s Fort. He says it will be cold, don’t stay long, and you will have a big climb, up a road, to Signal Knob. He had also pointed out Signal Knob from the car-a big old mountain, with cell towers on it.
I run a huge descent, which I am cringing. I know I have a climb. Any down hill means it is going up, eventually!
I eventually do turn out on a road. There IS an aid station, still here, hours after any runners have come through. There is a nice soft spoken woman with an accent here. She fills my water bottle as I eat small chocolate chip muffins. I find out later this is Eva, a rock-star 100 mile winner, out here tending to my ‘last of the pack’ issues!
As warned, this road gently winds up forever and forever. It is cold down here, but I’m “power-walking” as best I can. When does the climb begin? I know I have a climb! I know it’s here somewhere!!! But the road winds and wind.
Until I can see the climb. Okay, I’m good with that. FINALLY.
Except it climbs and climbs. Since I’m from Ohio, we don’t have that many hills. On a race, called the GroundHog 50K, it has nice hills. One is called “YellowBus“. This climb is like YellowBus, with many false summits. It’s like YellowBus X TWELVE!!!!!!! I stop looking up and start counting steps. I get discouraged and then just count to 10. Over and over.
I finally get to Signal Knob. The last spot. 5′ish miles to go. I stop and pull out my phone and call my husband to let him know I am still alive. I remember to take a picture, although it doesn’t do justice to what you can see up here.
I don’t linger. I am almost done. I am going to finish the Ring!!
Actually, not finishing has not been an issue. I felt very relaxed with this, since there are no real time cut offs. The AS workers were very supportive (hey, when you are last, everyone knows your name!!) and they still had real food and drink left out. That’s very good when you are in the extreme back. Us slowpoke runners need good food and drink, not just any old crappy leftovers that no one else would have-that’s why they’re called leftovers!
But first, I have five miles to go. Down Signal Knob. I’ve had emails that only mention Signal Knob and sucking. No one goes into details. It’s ominous.
It doesn’t look so bad, does it? All these rocks? (Not that there were not rocks the other 65 miles!!!!) These are all pointy side up.
Really. My feet have been tender since around mile 50. I had been thinking of changing shoes (but then my drop bag was lost.) But this is Massanutten, and everyone’s feet is torn to shreds. So this isn’t anything new.
I start picking my way through it. It’s hard. My feet hurt. Then I decide, screw it, just run on top of it. It’s not going to make my feet hurt any less.
So I do, until I come to the ‘granite seas’ as I put it. These are big rocks (the pic below really isn’t justice, but I was fried and not using the camera any more at this point). It’s hopping and picking your way across, and not trying to fall.
I get to some sign that says Signal Knob Parking Lot, 3 miles. Longest 3 miles of my life. I felt like Sisyphys and his rock-I am doomed to stay on this trail for the blasted rest of my life! The switchbacks off the mountain were horrible. I would have rather just rappelled down to the parking lot.
I still have the energy to run into the parking lot, surprising the few folks there-Jim, Caroline Williams, Jason, and Eva. Apparently, as last place finisher, I’m well ahead of when I was expected!
Finisher! I finished in 27 hours, 36 minutes (somewhere around there). This is the club record for the fastest last place finish. (I guess usually last place finishers have been around 30 or 31 hours.)
After I recovered, emotionally, of that Signal Knob finish (and I think you have to experience it, to learn the term SUCK) and a nice shower and piece of pizza, I think I can answer Quatro’s question “Did you have fun?” with an emphatic, yeah, it was fun. I had a great time!
But there is more. Now that I am in the Fellowship of the Ring, there is another category, The Master of the Ring. It’s the Ring, in Reverse (cleverly called the Reverse Ring) in February.
I think I’ve been smitten with the call of the Rocks.
Apologies for the big old long post. This was the bare bones post. I hope to get something out tomorrow, with more thoughts and reflections and such!