Indeed it was beautiful last Saturday as 229 ultra runners
coursed through the Blue Ridge Mountains during the Mountain
Masochist Trail Run (MMTR) 50+ miler. Although I wasn't on
much of the course myself, I'll include some scenic photos here
that I took at the start, at two aid stations, at the finish,
and along the Blue Ridge Parkway as I traveled from the James
River to Montebello.
Here's an example of the blue ridges in their fall finery that the runners got to enjoy:
It's an aptly-named range of mountains, isn't it?
[NOTE: I began this entry in a fairly timely manner
but got totally distracted getting ready for our winter trip to
the Southwest. I actually uploaded this entry on November 22 but
will leave the date of this one -- and others begun several
weeks ago -- on the dates I meant to finish them. ]
I introduced the race in the
last entry, talked about Jim's
and my history with the race, outlined his training, and showed
photos from a training run he did with one of our Roanoke
friends, Steve Bowles. This is about the tenth year that either
or both of us has been involved with the race as entrants, crew,
and/or volunteers since 1992. Although there have been subtle
changes to the race over the years under the directorship of
David Horton, the 26th edition of MMTR marked the beginning of a
new era for the race.
David conceived this race in 1983. Nancy, his long-suffering
wife, is credited with naming both the race and the participants
"Mountain Masochists." Even as the race grew and the Hortons'
responsibilities grew with it, David gradually added three more
races to his series based within an hour of Lynchburg, VA:
Holiday Lake 50K+ in February, Promise Land 50K+ in April,
and Hellgate 100K in December. Fortunately, David has a loyal
group of volunteers, an energetic administrative assistant, and
lots of college students in his classes who are willing to assist with all these races. But
much of the burden fell on his wife, especially during the
years David was running across the USA (1995) and setting records on
the AT (1991) and PCT (2005).
This year, Nancy finally got her wish for David to pass on the
responsibilities of MMTR to someone else. It was an interesting
Handsome entrants' shirt design with a
collage of photos from previous years of the race
I remember David saying that the 2002 race, the 20th
anniversary, would be his last because Nancy wanted him to give
it up. I didn't hear anything about whether it would be passed
on to someone else or whether it would just be a memory. Those rumblings
were the impetus for Jim and me to fly to Virginia from Montana
for the race in 2000. I wanted Jim to experience MMTR while it was
still under David's directorship. He enjoyed the race that year
-- his only finish on the course.
Fast-forward to 2007. David had a new plan to announce:
in a bargain with Nancy, he agreed to give up directing MMTR and
Nancy agreed to "let" him try to set a speed record
on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) the summer of 2008. It was a
win-win. The arrangement called for Clark Zealand, one of David's
former students and now a teaching peer at Liberty University,
to assist with the RD duties at the 2007 race and take it over
in 2008. Clark also employed the assistance of his brothers, who
are all involved in an ecological-minded race directing
venture called Eco-X Sports.
Clark and Company did a great job, tweaking some things here and
there but retaining many of David's traditions and quirks.
Showman that he is, David's presence was felt during the pre-
and post-race festivities, as befits a Living Legend. And he got
to run the race for only the second time in its 26-year history.
(The CDT adventure was less successful, unfortunately. See my
entry for that story -- and why
I still consider David one of my running "heroes.")
One of the biggest changes this year was a new venue for the
pre- and post-race activities (dinners, packet pick-up, awards
ceremony): the very nice Kirkley Hotel, where Clark
arranged for good discounts on the rooms. Not only did we much
prefer the Kirkley to the other nearby motel where we've stayed
a few times for this race, we also appreciated the convenience
of not having to drive to one of the high schools for the
dinners and awards.
It was great to simply walk downstairs to check in (above) and
eat dinner Friday night. It's even more convenient for folks who
fly in for the race. They don't need to rent a car or hitch
rides with other runners now to get to the dinners or catch the
buses to the start. Clark also arranged for two rooms
to be open after the race for runners who weren't staying at the
Kirkley on Saturday night so they could take showers before
Although we live only 45-50 minutes from Lynchburg we chose to
stay at the Kirkley Friday night so Jim wouldn't have to get up
quite as early for the 6:30
start Saturday morning. We checked into our handsome, spacious
room about 3 PM and just relaxed. Cody got to come along with us
because he travels well and
is a great "crew dog." There was a nice park-like area behind the hotel
for him to roam around when he needed to stretch his legs and he
was cozy sleeping in our Odyssey van all night., even though it
got chilly outside.
It was fun to talk to Clark, David, and other runners we know
when Jim got his race number and shirt. I finally got to meet
Jennifer Pharr Davis (below, left), who ran the fastest women's time on the
Appalachian Trail this summer. You can bet we had plenty to talk
about! Jim got this photo of us before dinner:
Jennifer has run the race previously but was here this year to crew
for David. I got to talk with her again at Hwy. 60 and the
Just before the doors opened for the pre-race dinner, we spotted
our Atlanta buddy Steve Michael in the packet pick-up line. We
shared a table with Steve, his wife Bev, their friends Art and
his wife, Joey Anderson, and Lisa Wilber. You can sort of see
them in the photo below at the middle right table. Art is in the
white shirt on the left, then Steve, then Jim in black shirt,
Joey in green shirt, Lisa in pink:
Here's another shot of the dining area (only a few of the tables are
shown in these two photos):
I thought the food prepared and served by the Kirkley was
superior to that in previous years; as you'd expect, some
folks told Clark
they didn't care for it as much. You can't please all of the
people all of the time . . . The fare was more
upscale (e.g., portebello mushroom lasagna instead of
basic meat lasagna for one of the entrees). Diners efficiently served themselves from
lines in two rooms across from the dining room.
We had to razz Steve when he came back to our table with a HUGE
piece of cake and ice cream for dessert:
He thoroughly enjoyed carbo-loading and it certainly didn't hurt
him any -- he finished his tenth MMTR the next day. (L-R: Steve,
After dinner Clark gave his pre-race welcome and course
briefing. There were some very nice sponsors' products given out
in a drawing; Steve won a useful headlamp. The most
memorable moment was the costume contest when several young men
(including Andrew Thompson and Jonathon Basham) paraded through
the dining room dressed in hot pants and women's wigs. They
didn't win, however. The honors went to a couple -- whose names
escape me -- dressed in authentic-looking 1800s clothing that they wear to
horse shows and period re-enactments:
After Clark's presentation we talked to a few more friends,
walked Cody and said good-night to him, and went up to our room.
We were in bed in time to get about seven hours of sleep. Even
though we were closer to the race start than driving from home,
we still had to get up at 4:15 AM to beat the runner buses out
of the gate in the morning. Ugh.
RACE DAY DAWNS
On Saturday morning we got down to the van to walk Cody around before several buses
arrived in the Kirkley's large rear parking area arrived
to carry many of the runners to the start of the race at the James River
Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Steve Michael and
Steve Bowles rode with us to the start. We thought we knew the
way, but soon got a little lost in Lynchburg and returned to the Kirkley
to follow the first bus when it left at 5 AM! The buses
go a different way than I remember going previously, and they
are tediously slow, but at
least we got to the start early enough to get a good parking spot. Then
we had to wait about 40 minutes for the race to begin. It was
clear but chilly so we stayed in the van most of that time.
Clark sent the runners off promptly at 6:30. It remained
dark another half hour or longer. The 12-hour time limit ensures
that runners get done before dark Saturday night (soon after 6:30
PM). This year's race was one day before
the time changed. Clark has to change either the date of the
race next year or the start time, as the first Saturday in
November, 2009 is apparently after Daylight Savings Time ends
and it will be dark by 5:30 PM.
I kissed Jim good-bye and bade him a good race right before he
and the two Steves positioned themselves in the crowd of
runners. Everyone headed north on the Blue Ridge Parkway for
about a mile and a half before turning around and coming back to
the start. Although neither of us is fond of this section, Jim
was in good spirits and keeping his intended pace when he came
back after about three miles. He tossed me his jacket and was on his way across
the long James River Bridge.
I took this photo of the James River Bridge about 30 minutes
later when it began getting more light:
Here are some other pictures I took of the scenic James River
during and after dawn:
The James River, looking west in the
direction the runners are heading
Looking east toward Lynchburg
Panoramic view looking west after the sun
Another view west
Looking south from the bridge
After enjoying the beautiful changing colors near the river as
the sun rose above the nearby hills, I picked up a few pieces of
remaining trash at the start area and headed north to Rice
Mountain and one of the aid stations right off the parkway. I
found a pullout just north of the aid station and parked there.
The autumn leaves just glowed in the early morning sunshine:
This colorful view looks toward the east:
Above 4,000 feet, many of the leaves were down but they were at
or near their peak on race weekend from about 2,000-3,000 feet.
I hope the runners were able to appreciate the beauty
I wandered a quarter mile down the parkway to the
"Parkway Gate" aid station, which is located about 15 miles into the
race course. I'd never visited this one before and wasn't able
to wait for Jim to come through, but spent a few minutes talking
to the radio guy and other volunteers, below, as they waited for
the first runners to reach the aid station. Since dogs weren't
allowed at aid stations, I left Cody in the van; he got
several walks away from aid stations during the race.
Lon Freeman was the first runner through the aid station. He
would later drop out at Hwy. 60:
Here comes our VHTRC friend, Sean Andrish, in about fifth place:
Sean finished in the top ten as usual.
NOW THE RACE REALLY BEGINS!
After Sean passed through I headed on up the parkway to the Hwy.
60 aid station. I had promised Mike Hall (AS captain) and Annette Bednosky that I'd help
them at that aid station while I was waiting for Jim to come in.
As mentioned in the
last entry, this aid station at
Long Mountain Wayside is about halfway through the race (26.9
Horton Miles = probably farther) and is the most tempting place
for runners to drop out voluntarily, especially if they are
pushing the cut-off. This is the last place where an aid station
captain has discretion to allow a runner to continue if (s)he is
just past the cut-off. Runners know they are only half-way up
the long trudge to the top of Buck Mountain and the highest
sections of the course. They are tired and they've heard this is
where the race really begins . . .
And those buses are so doggone inviting, just sitting there
waiting to take runners back to the finish line early!
Steve Michael re-supplies at our van at
Hwy. 60. Four buses are in the background.
Fortunately, most of the runners made it to Hwy. 60 in time and
continued on toward the finish. Jim was even able to make the
2+ mile climb to the Buck Mountain aid station about as fast as he did
it on his training runs.
I reached the aid station area after the buses had arrived and
put out the runners' drop bags (below)
but well before any runners came through (I took the photo
above later in the morning). Mike and the other
volunteers were just putting the finishing touches on the aid
station. Cody and I went for a little walk in the woods before I
began a three-hour volunteer stint. I was parked close enough to
the aid station to check on Cody occasionally and set out Jim's
and the two Steves' drop bags. You can see our tan Odyssey in
the photo above.
I've helped in various ways at this aid station before -- at the
aid station itself, at the highway (where traffic whizzes by), retrieving drop bags, directing
runners up the right trail beyond the aid station, etc. This year I
mostly assisted runners right at the aid station.
Runners approach the aid station on dirt FS Road 38, shown
below, and cross Hwy. 60 to reach the aid station.
In the photo below, Jen Pharr Davis accompanies David Horton
across the road and toward the timer, who is seated. Mike Hall
is on the right, taking a picture:
I pretty much did whatever was needed at the aid station,
keeping it re-supplied, letting runners know what was available
to eat and drink, filling water bottles and bladders, answering
questions, and giving encouragement. Most runners know what they
want and try to get through the aid stations as quickly as
possible. Some need reminders about hydration, calories, and
electrolytes -- or need to be prodded to get going more quickly!
Although I enjoy helping ALL the runners (especially those who
are pleasant and gracious!), it's especially fun to assist and
encourage the ones I know, like Jay and Anita Finkle. Here's Jay
talking with Annette and me as he rehydrates and catches his
breath before tackling Buck Mountain:
With his MMTR finish,
Jay has completed the first five races in Clark's and David's new
Beast Series; he has only Hellgate 100K in December
Anita came in a few minutes after Jay. She's always
Jim's goal was to reach Hwy. 60 half an hour before the flexible
12:30 cut-off so he'd have some cushion in the second
half of the course. To my dismay, he arrived a
couple of minutes past the cut-off:
Jim (on left) and 25-time MMTR finisher Tom Green approach Hwy.
Jim gets his empty bottle out before
reaching the aid station, a good way to save time.
Even though runners were allowed some leeway here, I
was prepared for Jim to possibly drop. He'd be under a lot of
pressure to continue beating the cut-offs all afternoon. However, he was
determined to keep going and get 'er done. He still felt strong
and he looked good! He didn't need any encouragement to to
go on. Jim and I swapped bottles quickly and he was gone up the
mountain in a flash.
As we waited for the remaining runners to arrive we began to
tear down the aid station. Several more runners were allowed to continue up
Buck Mountain. A few were well enough beyond the cut-off that
they were pulled from the race. One man was particularly
dejected, but didn't argue with Mike or Annette -- that's a good
way to sabotage getting into the race in the future. The remaining
cut-offs in the second half are strictly enforced so no one is still out on the
course after dark. That's inconvenient for the volunteers and
race officials, and dangerous for the runners if they don't have
I helped pack up the aid station, then ate some lunch, took Cody
for another walk, and set out north on the Blue Ridge Parkway
once again, this time to the finish at Montebello. I considered
driving to The Loop aid station so I could crew Jim at ~ 33 and
39 miles but decided he
didn't need the temptation of a convenient vehicle! I figured
he'd be more motivated to keep on running if he was close to a cut-off up there,
knowing it'd be a long wait to get off the mountain with the
I stopped a couple times to take photos along the Parkway. One
is at the top of this entry. Here's another colorful view from
the same pull-off:
ON TO THE FINISH
Several runners had already finished by the time I got to
Montebello. I parked near the finish canopies, shown in the
photos below, and found Clark
right away. He was present all afternoon to welcome the runners
home. I could see there wasn't anyone handing out the
finisher shirts, so I volunteered my services. Clark was happy for
the offer. I handled that job for over four hours until the
last runners came in.
Soon after arriving at the finish I
gave the radio operator Jim's race number and asked if he had
dropped from the race. I knew he was running close to the
cut-offs but didn't realize how fast he'd made the climb up Buck
Mountain. He told me later that he made up time getting to the
next two aid stations, increasing his cushion before reaching
the inbound aid station at the Loop. The radio guy didn't have
his number -- that was good because it meant Jim was still in
Since I was busy tracking down runners to give them their
shirts, I wasn't able to take nearly as many finish photos as I
last year. I did catch David
Horton's finish and traditional dip in the nearby pond:
Although it was sunny and in the 60s when he came in just before
3:30 PM, I'm guessing that water was pretty chilly!
Here's David a few minutes later, posing with family and friends:
This was only the second time he's been able to run the race,
after all those years directing it. He finished in 9:56
hours, placing 54th of 182 finishers under 12 hours. He was __th
in the M50-59 age group.
I caught RD Clark welcoming a happy Jay Finkle just after he
finished in 10:02:
And here's Jay with Anita when she finished in 11:18:
Soon after the 4:15 PM cut-off at Salt Log Gap the radio guy
notified me that Jim had been pulled at that aid station 41.5
Horton Miles into the race. Rats! (No, that's not exactly what I
said to myself.) Deja vu all over again. Just as in 2004, he was
a few minutes past the cut-off at this aid station.
Several things went through my mind. I wondered what happened. I
wondered how and when he'd get to the finish. I wondered what
frame of mind he'd be in when I saw him. Most of all, I
empathized with the frustration I knew he was feeling.
In the last entry I mentioned how many runners traditionally
finish the race in the last hour, recently 35-42% of the runners
under 12 hours. This year that percentage would be even higher:
79 of 183 runners finished between 11 and 12 hours, a
whopping 43% of the total. Another three came in after 12 hours,
for 44% if you count them, too.
No wonder I was very busy that last hour tracking down the
runners to give them their shirts!
That was also when Jim got back to the finish on one of the
buses that transported runners who dropped or were pulled from
some of the aid stations near the end of the race. I didn't have
much time to talk to him until the ride back to the Kirkley
Hotel. He got some hot chili at the little store across the road
and got into some dry clothes while we waited for the two Steves
to come in.
We were getting a little concerned about them as the clock
ticked closer and closer to the 12-hour cut-off. Then we saw
Steve Michael approaching the finish line -- he made it with
just over eleven minutes to spare! Steve Bowles was a few
seconds behind. Whew!
Steve Bowles, Jim, and Steve Michael at the
end of the race
As close as those two were to the 12-hour cut-off, another
thirteen runners came in after them -- ten more under 12 hours,
three just over (two by mere seconds). The last three have
official finishes but didn't receive the nice black technical
shirts reserved for those under 12 hours.
At 6:30 I put the remaining shirts in a box and headed
back to Lynchburg with Jim, Cody, and the two Steves. We were
all pretty tired from a long day working and playing in the
I got to hear more about how Jim's race went during the drive to
the awards ceremony (and dinner, even more important to us at
that point!). Apparently the only thing that went wrong was his
inability to run fast enough. He had no problems with his feet
or stomach. He was in good spirits and motivated to finish.
Although he was two minutes behind the cut-off at Hwy. 60 (~ 27
miles), he made up 15 minutes on the cut-off by the time he got
to the Loop at ~ 34 miles. He lost most of that cushion in the
notorious Loop and by Salt Log Gap (41.5 miles,
officially), he was about four minutes behind the curve. There
was no leeway allowed at these later aid stations, so he was
Jim withdrew graciously without argument, unlike another runner
who was two or three minutes over the time limit and continued
on against orders to stop and with full knowledge he was
jeopardizing his chances to ever run the race again. That runner
later returned to Salt Log Gap via a pick-up truck. We don't
know if he turned around on his own volition or if someone was
dispatched to pick him up.
Jim hasn't seemed too bothered by another DNF at Mountain
Masochist. He says he isn't likely to enter it again. Even
though he came close to finishing once again, this race is
stacked against slower runners. He may not be able to resist the
challenge, though. I won't be surprised if he enters it again
and I certainly won't discourage him from trying.
It always seems like a long way back to Lynchburg in the dark
after MMTR but the time passed more quickly listening the Jim
and the two Steves talking about their races. They were all
within a few minutes of each other during the race. Steve
Michael was especially happy because he accomplished his goal of
a 10th finish. Jim got this picture of Steve receiving his
handsome 10-year jacket from David Horton:
We enjoyed the post-race dinner at the Kirkley as much as the
pre-race meal. Well, except for the announcement that a door was
open on a van with the license plate "RUN LONG."
Uh, oh. That's us! Jim rushed out right away. It took me about
15 seconds longer to realize what that meant -- Cody was
in the van! Or I HOPED he was still in the van. Did he get out
to explore or follow someone? Did he get lost? Did someone take
him? Heck, he'd probably go with anyone who offered him some
food! We were parked near a walkway and it was likely that
several people had walked right past our car on their way into
the hotel. Did the person who reported the open door see Cody
By the time I finally reached the door to the back parking lot,
Jim was on his way back in. One of the sliding side doors of the
van had been left open and we didn't notice it in the dark in
our hurry to get inside for dinner. We don't know if Cody did
any exploring, but right now, he was sound asleep in the van as
if nothing was wrong! What a good boy. Jim patted him, said
goodbye, and closed/locked the door.
We were very relieved that little incident had a happy ending.
Jim and I went back inside to finish our dinner, shake our heads
for a while about how lucky we were, and tell our friends what a
great dog we have! Other folks didn't think their dogs would
have stayed inside like that. I joked that Cody knows how good
he has it with us, and he'd be foolish to run off.
Once most guests were done eating, Clark began
the awards ceremony. There were more nice products from
sponsors given out randomly. Awards that are unique to MMTR or
other "Horton Races," such as Best Blood, Fastest Fat Boy and
Fat Girl, and fastest local male and female runners, were
presented. Clark and David also awarded the top ten male and
female finishers, age group winners, and LUS (Lynchburg Ultra
Probably the funniest moment came when the trophy was announced
for the runner who could lift the most weight right after he
finished the race. When the winner went forward to claim his
prize, David ran up and started taking the guy's shirt off. Then
David took his shirt off and compared pecs and abs with the
muscular dude who won:
"Rosie," David Horton, and the guy who won
the weight-lifting contest after the race
Maybe you had to be there!! (And know what a clown David
Despite Jim's DNF we
both had a good time at the race. The weather and scenery were
perfect, the race was well-organized and run, and we got to socialize with lots of friends from far
and wide. It doesn't get much better than that!
I've had some problems determining race stats for 2008.
Jim and I are unable to find the FINAL final results of the race
Eco-X web site A/O November 22. They were there several
days after the race, then disappeared when Clark realized there
were some mistakes. The closest I can find on this date are
here. This link may not work later on;
it was the "live
results" page during the race and isn't totally right. For
one thing, it still lists too many DNFs; some of those
were DNSs. Clark says only 229 runners began the race, not 258.
Check back later for the corrected overall and age-group
As best as I can tell, 183 runners finished the race under 12
hours. If 229 runners started, that's an 80% finish rate. If you
count the three runners who finished over 12 hours, the finish
rate is 81%, right on the norm for this race. As mentioned
previously, 43% of the finishers came in during the last hour
(and three more after that = 44%).
In the days following the race I had some fairly intense e-mail
"conversations" with several older female running friends and
Clark regarding issues precipitated by an awkward incident at the awards
ceremony in which the first-ever 60-year-old female finishers'
accomplishments were essentially dismissed. One of these days
I'll write an entry in this journal about aging ultra runners
that considers races in Virginia and elsewhere with tight time
limits, "elitist" policies and attitudes, and unequal or no
recognition for older male and female finishers. Even though the
topic emanates from MMTR, the problems I'll discuss are
certainly not limited to this race. I'll also include a bit
about 58-year-old Tom Green, the first Grand Slammer and the
only finisher of every MMTR race --until this year.
The next entry will not be about running at all, but I think
you'll enjoy the photos!
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil