2009-09-05 - One Third of The Ring

~25 miles @ ~20 min/mi


(photo of Kate and ^z approaching the Sherman Gap mini-aid station, courtesy Carl Camp [1])
"It is not in your character to give up!" a Chinese fortune cookie tells me. I tape the slip of paper to the Massanutten Trail guide I'm carrying, right below the entry for Mile 71.1, the end of The Ring.

Our fortune is correct: Kate and I don't give up. But we do stop far short of finishing the entire loop. Instead of joining the "Fellowship of The Ring" we are Felled by The Ring. Maybe next year!

Massanutten Mountain is a long double-ridge structure embracing the Fort Valley. "The Ring" is the Massanutten Trail (MT), an orange-blazed 71-mile circuit. At 7am on Saturday morning Kate Abbott and I, with 28 other ultrarunners, begin our attempt to run The Ring. We start at the north end of the mountain, the Signal Knob parking lot. Half of us will finish.

The Massanutten Trail is über-rocky; Caren Jew and I did ~17 miles of it earlier this year (cf. 2009-01-04_-_Massanutten_Mountain_Mayhem) in ~7 hours with no aid along the way. Today, the Saturday before Labor Day, temperatures rise to the mid-80s. Kate and I trek along at a steady 20 min/mi pace, with almost all of the other runners ahead of us. Only the indomitable Carolyn Gernand lags behind by a few minutes.

The MT follows a relentlessly rocky ridgeline after a steep climb. We have good shade from the trees, which mostly block the view of the valleys on both sides. Cellphone coverage is decent along the crest, and every hour or two I send a text message to my Twitter account reporting on progress. It auto-forwards to my page on Facebook. We see lots of bear scat and occasional swarms of gnats and hornets. At one point two scruffy individuals stand by the trail; Kate smells gunpowder and gun oil as she passes them. Poachers?

Onward we ramble, running on the few runnable segments, speed-hiking the hills, scrambling across the rocks, and constantly peering ahead for orange dot-dash blazes that mark the trail. We go off course only once (and that for just a couple of minutes) when I take a wrong turn at an intersection close to Sherman Gap.

Then near mile 11 potential disaster strikes: Kate stumbles, sprints to recover, and almost succeeds—before toppling in a skid that leaves a big goose-egg bruise on her left shin and tears open her left hand. We wash her wounds with water from my bottle. Blood drips down her fingers as we proceed. A few miles later at Milford Gap we see Gary Knipling and comrades who have hiked up to the trail. Gary rinses Kate's injuries again and gives her wet paper towels to hold against her palm.

We plod onward. My feet ache, especially the left metatarsals and the bottom of the right heel. Kate begins to develop bad blisters; apparently the layer of duct tape she applied before the start isn't working to prevent hot spots. I try to entertain with an explanation of non-Euclidean geometry, inspired by the saddle-shaped structure of the ridge as it passes a notch. I discuss the book I'm reading, Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, and the sf TV mini-series I've been watching, The Lost Room. Kate continues to lead 90% of the time. Perhaps she's trying to escape my monologue.

Then I begin to run out of water. Kate offers to share some of hers, but after taking a sip from her Camelbak suddenly discovers she's out too. I remind Kate that she's signed up for the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon a week from today. And tomorrow is Paulette's and my 31st wedding anniversary; it would be nice to get home early for that. Good face-saving reasons to consider declaring the day a training run and stopping at the first real aid station, Camp Roosevelt at mile 25. Kate promises to consider them.

As we pass Edith Gap at mile 24 and commence the steep descent we meet an increasing number of day-hikers, dog-walkers, and horse-riders. I attempt to send a final text-message tweet announcing our intention to drop, but cell coverage is already gone. Walking gingerly we reach Camp Roosevelt, follow the ribbon-markers to the picnic area, and at 3:26pm find Carl Camp, experienced ultrarunner and helpful crew today for Caroline Williams and Carolyn Gernand. Carl tells us that Caroline is blasting along 45 minutes ahead of us.

We sit down and Kate takes off her shoes revealing half a dozen huge fluid-filled blisters on the perimeter of both feet. Ouch! Carl tells us inspirational stories and encourages us to continue onward, but eventually we persuade him that we're going to punch out. He kindly offers us a ride back to Kate's car, 15 miles or so up the road. We greet Carolyn Gernand when she arrives at about 3:45pm—she also tries to get us to go on—then help Carl clean up the aid station after she leaves.

Carolyn goes on to finish The Ring in a bit over 30 hours, and Caroline makes the distance in just under 32 hours. Brava!

split mile time location tweet
0:583.00:58Shawl Gap so far so good
0:485.31:46Sherman Gap :-)
1:088.72:54Veach Gap big climb to ridge - whew!
1:2313.24:17Milford Gap Kate took nasty fall at 1040 hurt hand and shin
1:4718.16:04Habron Gap relentlessly rocky ridge continues
1:0320.87:07Stevens Trail bear scat and gnats
1:1925.08:26Camp Roosevelt Kate and I drop - our feet hurt! :-(

(cf. official results at [2]) - ^z - 2009-09-11

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