1996 Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run
"The 7-hour Barrier Falls"
by David Horton
It is hard to believe that I have directed this race for 14 years. There have been many bittersweet memories. It is a joy to see runners complete a distance that once upon a time was incomprehensible to them. I relish hearing runners talk about their race at the MMTR and how it compares with previous years times (sometimes better...sometimes worse). I love seeing our race shirts being worn by runners as I attend other races. It is such a joy and blessing to receive a thank-you note from someone who had a positive experience at the MMTR. However, just like a teenage years, the most exciting time in your life...is also the most difficult time in your life.
Directing a point-to-point ultra and all that goes with it is a most daunting task. The most difficult and stressful thing I do all year is directing the MMTR. Only another ultra race director can understand the pressure...but also the challenge. But as stressful as it may be...I wouldn't do it if I didn't also love it!
Weather in mid-October in Virginia, especially in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, can be very diverse. All week before the 1996 MMTR, temperatures were in the high 70's...too hot for running, but great for crews and aid station workers. Just like in 1995, a huge cold and rainy front came through on Friday night. And just like 1995, the rain stopped prior to the start of the race. However, the front dropped the temperatures during the day to the high 30's with very strong and gusting winds. The winds served to dry out the course and make racing conditions fantastic...but extremely cold for the aid crews and observers standing around, especially at the last three aid stations (located above 3500 ft.). There was even light snow and sleet late in the day.
We only had 145 runners from 23 states who toed the starting line this year. This was the smallest starting field at the MMTR since 1989. With no major financial sponsor, this caused me great concern, as well as putting the MMTR in financial difficulties for the first time ever. I attribute this decrease in numbers to the large increase in ultras nationwide. Does anyone else have any idea why our numbers were so low? Has this been the case at some of the other ultras? I don't think it was anything personal against the MMTR, but I would definitely like to know in order to plan for next year.
This year, not only were runners vying the special finishing trophies, but for embroidered golf shirts to the top ten males and top five females, with a special "1st Place" on one of the male and female shirts. Upon seeing the shirt, Courtney Campbell (Berryville, VA), the 1995 winner, commented "that is MY shirt". Campbell was out to break 7 hours and the course record of 7:02 held by Eric Clifton set in 1990. I told Campbell that he might win, but the he wasn't "man" enough to break 7 hours.
Besides Campbell wanting to break 7 hours, Eric Clifton (Crownsville, MD) thought he should be the first one to accomplish this goal. Although not verbally spoken, Mike Morton (Stevensville, MD) had a burning desire to beat "both" his training buddies. Maineak (Scott Grierson, Bass Harbour, ME), the second fastest person on the Appalachian Trail, had said that a hiker would someday win the MMTR. Ed Kostak (New Hartford, CT), a former thru-hiker of the AT, was on hand to try to make Maineak's statement a reality.
On the women's side of the field, Janice Anderson (Stone Mountain, GA) was back to try and make it three in a row (1994 & 1995 winner). Anderson set the women's course record (8:27:01) in 1994. However, local favorite, Rebekah Trittipoe (second to Janice in 1994 & 1995) was training better than ever and was primed to beat Anderson and break 9 hours as well.
From the onset, the big three (Campbell, Clifton and Morton) took the lead with Kostak trailing by 4-6 minutes. At the halfway point (aid station 10 - 26.9 miles), the big three checked in at 10:02 with Kostak checking in only 4 minutes later. For most runners, doubling their time at this point is very close to their finishing times. At this point, the 7 hour barrier looked safe.
Leaving aid station 10, the runners start a 2.6 mile climb up Buck Mountain. The big three arrived at aid station 11 at 10:37. However, the big three was now Campbell, Morton and "Kostak". Clifton checked in 12 minutes later and was not a factor the rest of the race. These three stayed together to the start of the 5 mile loop (33.6 to 38.6 miles).
Campbell blazed the loop faster than anyone ever has (42 minutes). The previous best time was 46 minutes when Clifton ran 7:02 in 1990. Only those who have run the MMTR can appreciate how good Campbell's time was in the loop. Kostak exited the loop two minutes behind Campbell with Morton losing 6 minutes to Campbell.
Campbell pushed the pace the rest of the way trying to break 7 hours. Checking his watch at the 1 mile to go sign (6:53:30), Campbell picked it up another notch breaking the tape in an outstanding time of 6:59:26. The 7 hour barrier had fallen...Campbell was man enough! Kostak finished in 7:06:03, the third fastest time ever. Kostak's time would have won every other Masochist except for one. Maybe Maineak was right...maybe someday a "hiker" will win the Masochist.
The women's race was just as hotly contested as Trittipoe jumped out to a short 3 minute lead over Anderson by aid station 2 (5.7 Horton miles). However, Anderson retook the lead just after the next aid station. Trittipoe stayed within 1-5 minutes of Anderson all the way to the loop. Entering the loop (33.6 miles), Anderson held only a slim 2 minute lead over Trittipoe. However, upon exiting the loop (38.6 miles), Anderson had increased her lead to 6 minutes. From there to the finish, Anderson maintained the gap crossing the finish line in 8:59:21 for her third victory in a row. Trittipoe finished just over 6 minutes later in a time of 9:05:41, just missing her goal of a sub-9 hour finish. Trittipoe improved her course time by 33 minutes from last year. With continued improvement by Trittipoe, there will surely be many more battles between Anderson and Trittipoe.
There are many other stories (every runner has a personal story), that could be told. Twenty-two year old, Kathy Faulkner (Decatur, AL) was the third woman finisher in a time of 9:24:22. This was Kathy's first 50 miler, as well as a first 50 miler for Eliza MacLean (Chapel Hill, NC) as she finished in 9:38:17 to claim fourth place. These two young ladies have a bright future in ultra running should they continue to pursue it.
There is a trout fishing pond adjacent to the finish line. In 1991, Maineak started a tradition of running and jumping into the pond after he crosses the finish line. As he crossed the finish this year, I uttered quietly (yeah..right), " Are you man enough to do it this year"? Keep in mind...the temperature was in the high 30's with 20-30 mph winds. He calmly crawled over a split rail fence, walked slowly to the pond, and right into the pond about waist deep and fell face forward...completely underwater. After a few seconds he came out of the water like a submerged whale and walked out. I guess hikers are tougher than runners...or dumber?
Reid "Muffy" Lanham was set to repeat as Mountain Man (top male local finisher). Lanham was in excellent shape, but ran into leg problems in the loop and dropped out at 38.6 miles. This left his local rival, Neal (push-ups) Bryant as the faster local male. Rebekah Trittipoe retained the Mountain Woman award.
The youngest finisher was 20 year old Liberty University student, Andrew Thompson (New Hampshire) and the oldest finisher was 64 year old Richard Opsahl (Huntington, NY). Peter Palmer (Avon, CT), 6th overall was the Masters winner (7:44:41) and Ingrid Honzak (Dayton, OH) was the female Masters winner with a time of (9:53:52). The Grand Masters winner was Larry Lovell (Mechanicsville, VA) in a time of 9:42:16. Local runner, Dr. Bernie Davis, finished the MMTR for the 10th time and was the only one to receive the coveted monogrammed 10 year jacket. Tom Green (Columbia, MD) finished in 9:45 to make it 14 starts and 14 finishes at the MMTR.
What does the future hold for the Masochist? I'm not sure. I try to do everything within my power to make it as organized and enjoyable as I can. I think it's a great race and a great event. How many ultras do you know of that have been directed by one person 10 years or more? There will probably have to be some changes made next year...but, I'm sure as long as I live in Lynchburg, the race will continue under my direction. The greater the challenge...the greater the reward. I hope to see more runners next year on October 18, 1997 at the Mountain Masochist Trail Run . . . "The Best Trail Run in the East".