1999 MMTR 50 Miler

October 16, 1999

The Year of Changes

by Dr. David Horton

Click here for an article by John Dodds who ran his first 50 Miler at this year's MMTR

Things change. People, race courses, and even runners, running a particular race, vary once in a while. People who traditionally run the MMTR were missing from this year's field for one reason or another. Eric Clifton, Courtney Campbell, Mike Morton, Rebekah Trittipoe, Janice Anderson, Dave & Nancy Drach, Maineak and Lone Wolf were not to be seen. However, there were new faces and new stories. Howard Nippert, Sue Johnston, James Curwen, and Joe Smindak made their first appearance at the MMTR.

Things change. Past MMTR runners are familiar with the sight of "tank traps"; and more tank traps were added again this year between aid station 3 & 4. Previous runners always "looked forward to" a very nasty & rocky downhill trail section between 48.5 and 49 miles. Because of a local landowner's displeasure at having the race cross his property, the mile between 48 & 49 was re-routed down a smooth gravel road! Actually, he was very considerate in that while he pulled the streamers down off his property ... he re-hung them on the new section. Although I thought the original section added character to the course, the consensus of runners commented on the "pleasant" surprise ... so it will probably stay the new route for future races.

Things change. We gave light-weight Patagonia capilene shirts to sub twelve finishers. We also added two new awards for the first time -- the Karcher award and the Best Blood award. For the past several years, we held our pre & post race banquet at E.C. Glass High School. This year we moved it to the Heritage High School Cafeteria. It was a much nicer, larger, and convenient location.

Things change. We had more Liberty University folks running than ever before. Six students and two faculty/staff members were entered; five of these individuals were running their first ultra.

Things change. Although we had fewer runners this year, we prepared a larger amount of pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, desert, salad, and drinks for the pre-race pasta meal than last year ... yet we ran out of pasta dishes. We ran out of salad and cake last year ... but had lots of leftovers this year. At the post-race (Award) dinner, catered by Homeland Cafeteria, we had plenty of food left over, whereas we barely squeaked by last year.

We had fewer runners this year, yet ran short on water at the aid stations. Last year we had more runners and ran short of Conquest. Last year we had an abundance of food at the aid stations ... this year, we ran short on some food items. We did not cut back on supplies ... who knows?

It is "always" an EXTREMELY difficult task determining how much food to have at pre & post race banquets, how much water, replacement drinks, etc. at the aid stations. From year to year runners eat more, less, and differently. We have 16 aid stations in which we try to stock everything a runner might need.

However, some things don’t change. Runners had their choice of a five-color high quality t-shirt or sweatshirt for entering. Three buses left at 5:00 a.m. to transport runners to the start and from the finish back to Lynchburg. The race started exactly on time (Horton Eastern Standard Time) for the 17th year in a row. Runners were treated like kings at the aid stations by many workers who have worked every race for 17 years. Music cheered the runners on at the start, and greeted the runners at aid station 4, and on top of Buck Mountain.

Things don’t change. Runners had to complete a challenging 50 mile course (it is probably closer to 52 miles) and cover many ups-and-downs; 8,040 feet of elevation gain (it is really just over 9,000 feet of gain). Runners get their money's worth at the MMTR and more. Runners had to finish the point-to-point course within 12 hours and not one second over.

Things don't change. For the 17th year in a row, the Lynchburg Amateur Radio Club (LARC) monitored every aid station and provided vital communication. Jeep Howell of LARC has helped with every MMTR. At the start, Doug Harrington of LARC had floodlights set up. As tradition has it, Hal DeVuyst drove me from start to finish (ahead of the runners) and through some very rough places as well.

Howard Nippert (Blacksburg, VA and a member of 1999 USA 100K team) called a few weeks before the race and indicated his desire to run the MMTR. Nippert is an assistant track and cross-country coach at Virginia Tech. Nippert was established as the prohibitive favorite. Donald Smith (Danville, VA and 7th in 1998 MMTR), Dink Taylor, DeWayne Satterfield (both of Huntsville, AL), and James Curwen (Asheville, NC) were expected to give chase to Nippert. On Wednesday of race week, Clark Zealand found out that he would be able to compete in the MMTR race. Zealand had won the Terrapin Mountain 1/2 marathon the week before in record time. This would be Zealand’s first 50 miler.

Sue Johnston (St. Johnsbury, VT) was the prohibitive women's favorite. Johnston has some impressive credentials from 1999 races: 2nd at Hardrock 100, winner of Masanutten and Superior 100 milers, as well as successful races at other ultras.

As expected, Nippert jumped out to take the lead. Unexpectedly, Zealand went with him. They ran together, but they didn't. Zealand would get ahead on the downhills and Nippert would pass him on the uphills. Through aid station 8 (22.3 miles), the two traded the lead several times. Around this point, Zealand started feeling a little nauseous. The weather was a little warmer than ideal and the humidity was very high.

Nippert pulled away to a 2 minute lead by aid station 9 (24.6 miles) and 4 minutes by aid station 10 (26.9 miles). At this point in 1997, course record holder, Josh Cox, checked into this aid station at 10:08 and went on to set the course record of 6:57. Nippert arrived at this point at 9:56! Would we have a new course record?

After aid station 10 (Long Mtn. Wayside) the course climbs all the way to the top of Buck Mtn. (29.5 miles). Nippert increased his lead to 10 minutes by this point (still 11 minutes ahead of Cox's record time).

After this aid station, Zealand began to throw up several times and his pace decreased dramatically. At the entrance to the loop (33.8 miles) Zealand was 16 minutes behind Nippert and fading. Nippert was 8 minutes ahead of Cox's record pace at this point.

The Five Mile Loop is the most notable feature of the MMTR course. It starts out so innocently for the first couple of miles, then it starts climbing and goes over 4,000 feet. Cox had run the loop in 42 minutes, and Campbell ran it in 42 minutes when he ran the course in 6:59. Forty-two minutes seemed to be the standard for records. Both Zealand and Nippert took 52 minutes to complete the loop! Zealand continued to be sick and called it a day at 38.6 miles.

At Salt Log Gap (41.5 miles), Nippert was only one minute behind Cox's record pace. From this point on, Nippert lost time on Cox's record pace, but completed the course in 7:16:14, to become the 9th fastest performer ever at the MMTR race. Who knows what he could have done if he were pushed from this point in! Cox was still behind Campbell at this point in 1997, but raced to the finish in record time.

James Johnson (a local runner competing in his first ultra) started out very easy. At aid station 8, Johnson was in 13th place. He continued to move up all day. As late as 43 miles, Johnson was still in 5th place. Johnson finally passed DeWayne Satterfield to take 2nd place in 7:32:02, twenty-six seconds ahead of Satterfield (7:32:28). Smith (7:43:40) edged Dink Taylor (7:44:35) for 4th place.

Sue Johnston took the early lead as expected. By the 2nd aid station (5.7 miles), Johnston had a 7 minute lead. Her lead continued to increase throughout the day. By the finish, Johnston had over an hour gap on the 2nd place woman. Crossing the finish line and walking around afterwards, Johnston looked like she had just run around the block. As demonstrated by her many successes this year, Johnston continues to show just how tough she is. I think she could have easily turned around and ran back to the start with very little difficulty. Only 5 women have ever run faster than this 1999 performance.

Susan Baehre (Springfield, VA - 9:53:58) took over second place by Buck Mtn. and maintained this position all the way to the finish. Colleen Dunlin (Alexandria, VA - 10:13:28) took 3rd place.

Andy Peterson (Luray, VA - 8:10:54) and Debra Reno (Hopedale, MA - 10:16:57) were the masters winners. Richard Schick (Marietta, GA - 9:13:19) and Marge Burley (Baltimore, MD - 11:54:50) were the grand masters winners. John DeWalt (Sarver, PA - 10:36:23) was the super masters winner. Ken Karcher (Boise, ID – 11:38:21)won the newly established Karcher award: top finisher 70 years or older. The Mountain Man and Woman awards (top local finishers) went to 1st time ultra-runner James Johnson (7:32:02) and previous Mountain Woman winner, Theresa Boyes in 11:48:20; breaking Rebekah Trittipoe's five year string. Trittipoe is recovering from recent foot surgery. Ten year jackets were presented to Tom Sprouse (Wise, VA - 11:27:48) and David Strong (Broomfield, CO - 11:41:47). Sprouse and Strong started running the race in 1990 and have been successful every year since. This is always a highlight for me to put the jackets on those who have completed 10 MMTR races.

Tom Green (Columbia, MD – 9:38:12) continued his remarkable streak as he completed the MMTR for the 17th time in 17 attempts ... the only person to have finished every year.

Another new award was established this year ... Best Blood. I informed the runners on Friday night that whoever showed me the best blood at the end of the race would be awarded the "Best Blood" award. One bloodied runner checked into one of the aid stations, and our race physician, Dr. Wortley, attempted to clean him up, but the runner declined, saying that he needed to show it to me at the finish! Mike Lager (Virginia Beach, VA) won the award by sporting blood caked on the side of his face, temple and hand, and had a good gash to boot! He was awarded with the "Best Blood" t-shirt and an embroidered Golf Shirt on Saturday night. This will be a coveted award from this date forth!

Six Liberty University students, Andrew (A.T.) and Amy (Booger) Thompson, Ken (Too much sweat) Kirschner, Kevin (Budd Boy) Budd, Eric (Talks too much) Bath and Mary (Mouse) Andrews, and two of our faculty/staff, Mike (Sandbagger) Sandlin and Neal (Push-ups) Bryant, finished the race. "Mouse" is in my running class this semester, while Kevin, Amy and Eric were in my running class last semester. They earned their grades!

I could tell more stories if I knew them. And hopefully, I will hear stories from our runners as time progresses. For every runner that toed the line there is a story ... some successful ... some not.

Thirty-six people did not finish. Why? In most cases, it was because reality did not meet expectations, or the reality of the difficulty was greater than the expectations. Some trained very hard, but did not finish. Some didn’t train very hard and finished. For those of you who did not finish, I hope you come back and finish next October 21, 2000 for the 18th running of the "Best Trail Race in the East."

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