Elizabeth Azze's 2009 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
May 14th Joe and I headed to Virginia to run/adventure in the beautiful Shenandoah Mountains. We were there for the Massunuttan Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run that started at 5:00 am that Saturday. 200 people or so toed the line for the start of the MMT 100, which is billed as one of the hardest if not the rockiest 100 milers in the nation, which included 18,000 feet of elevation gain along the way.
After spending the week prior at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital by my mother’s bedside and after participating in the North Face Challenge 50 mile Endurance Run (race report) the weekend before, I began to question myself and my motives for racing in the MMT. This was until my mother told me to do it for her and everyone else here at the hospital. “Do what makes you happy and be thankful that you can”, she said. With those words I chose to leave with her energy and with out guilt to pursue our next adventure.
We showed up to the MMT with out any real expectations. I started the race thinking I would make it to the first aid station and then spend the rest of the day cycling around with Joe on skyline drive. The humidity that day must had been 100%, the forecast called for passing thunderstorms with a high of 85. We were fortunate to have a couple of miles in the beginning to run on the road to wake us up before we dove into the woods. Most ultras love to start on an uphill. Giving my current situation, I was thankful for the couple of miles on the road. I didn’t look at the course in detail before the start due to the reputation this race carries as being one of the hardest and rockiest 100-mile races in the nation, so with that known, who needs to see a profile of the pain to come.
I started pretty slowly not knowing what to expect from my body. The last time I put my body and my mind to the test like this was in 07 when I ran Western States 100 and then 30 days later I did the Vermont 100. As we dove into the woods to start one of our many ascents the course would bring through out the day, the sun began to rise. An orange glow painted the sky, sweeping clouds drifted on top of the knife-edge ridge we found ourselves running on. The beginning of this course offered us endless views of the magnificent Shenandoah Valley, it really was jaw dropping. I couldn’t help but slow my pace to stare. Wow I thought to myself, this is going to be a stunning race I was eager to see what was around the next corner. Boy, was it humid out!
I chatted with a couple of people I knew from other races along the way, then boom the first aid station came, wow that was fast! So I said to myself, I feel okay, so lets get to the next aid station and go from there. During this race, aid stations were mostly followed by a 45 min. climb or longer; how fun... Over the next couple of miles I started to relax and my pace started to pick up. My mind started to go into a nice ultra runners meditative state and I was feeling good! A couple of aid stations went by and I was really feeling great. That was until I rolled my left ankle on a technical downhill section, DAM!!!
From that moment on my ankle and calf area really started to tighten up. With the long climbs and the endless technical downhill sections, I began to worry a bit knowing that these weren’t going to help. I continued to push on knowing the next aid station was coming up and I would drop in fear of doing long term damage. I came into the aid station at mile 42 or so and told Joe I really should drop now, but one of my friends who knew the course said it was pretty much a hike until the next aid station, for some reason I decided to keep going. While climbing up the next beautiful mountain, thunder started and half way up I almost turned around. Little did I know this was going to be one of the many storms that would shroud the course the entire 100 miles.
When I got to the top of the climb the heavy rain and the lightening started, I said to myself I’m all alone on top of a ridge with lightening bolts striking in front of me and my ankle is killing me,...great! With every step my foot slid into awful positions. This was just like the Escarpment Trail Run last year when it became a race for your life. I caught up and ran with this gentlemen by the name of Dan, he and his wife have been traveling and running these events for what seemed to be most of my life. They were running before I even new or thought about running. Danimal, his nickname was and with his stories, drove me to my final aid station with a smile on my face and a reminder of one of the reasons why we do these things... To inspire each other and offer inspiration and motivation! Whether you are building up to a 30 min run or 300 miles we all need inspiration!
Like I always say, I love technical trail running so it was pretty disappointing to drop. But it was the smart thing to do! Listen to your body and keep your priorities straight some times you have to lose sight of a finish line to reach the one that’s around the corner.