I ran the 71 mile loop around the Massanutten Mountains last Saturday, August 31. 10 days later I am still trying to make sense of what happened.
Going into it, I thought it would be reckless and foolish to even try to come near Adam Watkin's inhuman time of 14:23 from 2017 (hereafter "AW2017"). I feared blowing up even in an attempt to go sub-15 hours because the high temp was due to be 83 degrees (F). Instead, I turned those fears into a series of process-oriented mini-goals: 1) run a conservative first third (till Camp Roosevelt, mile 25); 2) at Camp Roosevelt, ice down and hold pace on climbs until Crisman (mile 34); 3) if feeling good at Crisman, eat burritos, cheetos, doritos (and anything else ending in "os") and gently accelerate in last half and see what's under the hood.
Somehow, someway, this worked. I was 5 minutes behind AW2017 time at Milford Gap (mile 13). At Camp Roosevelt (mile 25), I was about even with those splits, so had somehow made up those 5 minutes, even though the heat and humidity of the morning was already taking its toll. From mile 25 on, I began gently pushing deeper and found a rhythm that seemed to work for me. At Crisman Hollow, I saw Martha and the kids, which elevated my spirits and helped me push further.
Throughout the afternoon, my lead on AW2017 increased, even though in each section, I just knew -- KNEW! -- that I must be giving up time on that lead. The short mountain section (miles 40 to 48) took so much out of me mentally and the heat of the afternoon was not kind to me in the various exposed sections on the ridge. Even though my splits showed otherwise, my doubts intensified greatly when I reached Powell's Fort. I only had 8.2 miles to go, but there was no aid set up yet and I had to rely on Martha and the kids. I wasn't sure where they had parked the car in relation to the marker for Powell's Fort from previous years, so I had no way of knowing my exact split for that section and whether I was accelerating or decelerating compared to AW2017.
After Powell's Fort, it did dawn on me that I was so close. I motored up the forest service road to Signal Knob, with only a couple walking breaks over the entire 3 to 4 mile section. I got to see the Signal Knob view before sunset (approximately 7:20 PM) and then found a renewed sense of purpose in those last 5 miles.
Among the takeaways from this project were: 1) consistent mileage paid off; 2) gym exercises paid off, particularly in feeling strong hiking uphills and less deterioration in the final miles; 3) course knowledge and visualization techniques completely helped in the latter sections; 4) eating on uphills is a worthy investment; 5) perpetum, caffeine (ice tea, gus), ensure are elixirs; 6) solid, but conservative pacing in the first 1/3 to half was critical to my overall timing.
A final takeaway for me is that, every time I run with the VHTRC clan, I feel more indebted to the community and the volunteers. Everyone is supportive of each other; everyone seems to recognize that we do this meaningless running thing for some greater purpose. While those purposes go unspoken, kinship and empathy are the byproducts of this silent meandering.