MMT TR#2 was my first real training run for the Massanutten 100 race (MMT), a race that is named after a ring of mountains where some of them create one side Shenandoah valley. For us locals, I don’t think it is anything extraordinarily beautiful but I did catch occasional glimpses of the famous Shenanoah River while running on the MMT trail, and each time is a reward for being there. Most of the time though, all I see is trees. The course is mostly running the entire ring (in a figure 8 actually, and the start is near the center of the 8). The MMT (trail) is less famous than the Skyline drive, where hordes people from the DC area would go, but it is a playground for us the more adventurous type people – mostly trail runners, mountain bikers, and backpackers/campers/hikers.
I have been training locally in my neighborhood this winter to get myself ready for the race but nothing compares to stepping on the actual course itself. I had an opportunity to do so last month, but ended up missing the first opportunity to do so at the official training run #1 due to it being conflicted with the Waterfall 50K which I was so hyped up about it, but was eventually canceled due to bad weather. Part of the MMT 100 is also in the Waterfall 50K, hence the reason I wanted to run the Waterfall race. Since that race was canceled, I kind of started my training for the MMT a little later than I wanted.
When the second MMT training Run got posted by the race organization itself, the Virginia Happy Trail Runners (VHTR), I jumped on it. I say it was a good start for my spring training. Technically, I could go out there and run on my own any time but I prefer to do it as a group. The course is about two hours away from where I live. It is not far but not near either, the four hours total traveling time is something I don’t just willy nilly drive out and do it.
Another reason for not going out there earlier back in December or January, is that MMT is the hardest race I’m attempting to date. I want some hand holding and let some former runners show me the way. I know it is an excuse. The weather actually was not favorable back then. It is also to show the trail proper respect. I mean it can be dangerous, and having other people around makes it less so, because they can help if there’s an emergency.
Like almost any big race I do, it has been on my mind forever since I first knew about it, maybe as far back as 5 years ago when I first started running. VHTR is our local running club so naturally any trail runners in the area would know about them and their races. Any club that can host their own races is not too shabby. MMT is their signature race.
I have been avoiding signing up all theae years because it was too hard for me. In the early days indeed I was not ready or even dare to dream of running on trails myself. I was not a trail runner at the time nor an ultra distance runner. I normally ran 5/10K and marathon distance was the longest I did. Then last year, I met a runner whose father used to be one of the race directors. He recommended me to try it.
MMT is at a place I passed by many times whenever I go for camping or anywhere far. It is almost unavoidable because of its location. It is at the corner of two interstates (I-66 and I-81). They are the highways we would be driving on in order to get to anywhere out west. MMT is also known for one of the few ski slopes we have in our area (our winter is usually too warm for snow, so it is a treasured place, even if it meant artificial snow). This also shows that the course has some decent elevation. The lure is I know and heard of people who run on those mountains. I would look at the mountains there whenever I pass by and dream of some day that I get to run on them too especially in the MMT race itself.
After finishing two 100 mile races, I felt more prepared to tackle it. I signed up before I ran the last 100 mile race, so that I can’t back out due to my indecisiveness. You know, usually after doing a 100, you don’t want to sign up for another, so the idea is to sign up for the next one right before the race. Oh by the way I am thinking of the next 100 mile race (three in fact or even four) right now before I even started training for this. Doing one usually opens the door to another.
The course for the training run was modified this year due to Covid. The training runs in the past was to cover every mile of the actual race course in four training sessions. The second session I assume would be covering from the mile marker 25-50, which would involve shuttling from starting to the finishing.
But due to Covid, shuttling wasn’t a good idea when everyone is trying to avoid being in close contact. So instead of the normal point to point route, we had a loop course. This means that some portion of the race day course is not covered. I am not complaining. To me any run is just as good. I tell you it was sufficiently hard. I am mostly familiar with the rough terrain our area has to offer, having hiked in the surrounding areas before and I know it is a tough course. Running on it demands extra attention and skill. I have to say, the run was tough though not impossible. This was the first time I am seriously running on it and not just hiking.
Do I think I can do it? I think after the training running, it is a yes with reservation. I studied the entire course over the weekend before the run. There are significant climbs but the elevation probably is like the Laurel Highlands race I did last summer, which was a 70 mile race, and I did it in 22 hours. In this race I will have a total of 35 hours, meaning 13 more hours to run an additional 30 miles, meaning I have to do 15 miles in 6 or so hours, and that should be feasible (2.5 miles per hour at the last third of the race). It means as long as I stay on my feet, I should be able to finish.
Laurel Highlands has 12,000 ft (not sure what that means whether gain or total), MMT has 17,000 ft (again I hope I am comparing apple to apple), which both are pretty much the same as having an average of 170 ft gain/lost per mile. Of course there will be some sections where we will be climbing 1000 ft in a mile or so. The finish will on the road and also there is maybe a fourth of the course on relatively flat stretch. My personal goal is trying to get this race under 32 hours, however, I know I should not push myself too hard and jeopardize the entire race. It is a good soft goal to have (as I have finished the last two 100 mile races under 32 hours).
I did about 25.5 miles in 8 hours during the training run. It was not a fast time, yet not disappointing one either. In theory I should be able to finish the race within 35 hours with this pace. It might be a close call. 8.5x 4 is 34 hours, and I have 1 hour to spare for the slowing down in the second half. Granted that’s not a big margin for me to goof around. Ideally, I would like two hours or more as buffer because I need some time too to be off the trail at the aid stations (we will have 17 aid stations, and if I make each 10 min stop, it can easily use up 3 hours). I need to limit myself to keep my stop under 5 mins. During the training run, I did not go as fast as I could (and there was only one aid station), but I think it was a very good pace if that was my 100 mile run. I am worn out just by doing the 25 miles. I know I need to have better sustain if I am to repeat the feat for three more times in one go. I have to remember not to start out too hard on race day.
I know what I have to work on for the next two months. Having run on a lot in flat land (my neighborhood), my legs are weak on trails especially ones that require the finer control of foot placement. After the training, my legs were sore in weird places, like the side of my hip, my inner thigh and back of the legs, mostly smaller muscles, and some muscles around my ankles. My major muscle groups are strong. It was a good kind of pain, but during the night while in my sleep my whole legs cramped up and it woke me up, and that was miserable because I couldn’t find a perfect position to get into to ease the cramping. This was telling because it means I over did it during the training. I hope this won’t happen on race day. I need to run on the trail a few more times to develop the needed muscles and I should be good. In terms of speed, I might not be able to improve that much, but I can definitely work being better with the hills and making swift transitions at the aid stations. I know my speed will improve. The thing for me on trails is not so much about the burst speed but about running/hiking efficiently in long hours. Generally the pace is almost a hiking pace, but you need to do it quick and relentlessly. Efficiency is the key. Overall my time will improve if I get the technique down.
Last story: About 50 of us showed up for the training run. The small parking lot could barely have enough room for all of us. I think we fitted about 20-30 cars. I didn’t know anyone there but Carl who actually introduced me to the MMT trail when I went and ran with him last summer. Most runners were pretty fast. They have long legs. Pretty soon I was the last one. Toward near the end I caught up with a group of five or six people. Some I kind of recognized and I asked them if I have seen them before, they said sure, we ran together at the last few other training runs, such as the BRR#1, BRR#2 and MMT#1. I know I was not at MMT#1, but they have seen me before. I just did not remember meeting them.
The next training run, MMT#3 will be held at the end of March. I am looking forward to it.