Monday, January 19, 2009

"I love thy rocks and rills..."

"And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

Martin Luther King, Jr.

How I love Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, his call for racial equality and freedom, and his references to the glorious mountains of America! And how fitting that each year on the weekend that celebrates his birth, my VHTRC friends and I celebrate the freedom we enjoy as healthy, able-bodied trail runners to explore Virginia's Massanutten Mountain.

The annual VHTRC Martin Luther King weekend double is comprised of the first 50K of the MMT 100 on Saturday, and miles 39.8 to 64.9 of MMT on Sunday. I have never attempted the double, as I am always in recovery from Hellgate 5 weeks prior. But the party this year on Saturday night at Kerry's house in Front Royal was a treat---a chance to connect with old friends who live in New Hampshire, Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina who made the trek for big miles in the Massanuttens.

Kerry is a gracious host and there is always plenty of food, spirits, and floor space for her fellow ultrarunners. I stayed up way past my bedtime yakking with Kerry, Mike Mason, Mike Bur, Keith Knipling, Quatro Hubbard, Deb and Steve Pero, their friend Gary, Kirstin and Tom Corris, Mike Dobies, Bob Combs, Bill Losey, and Moose...we talked about the current state of ultrarunning, the lure of Facebook, The Barkley, debated the Western States lottery issues, cool ultra websites, and whether running "several" 100-milers means two, three or get the picture. Basically lots of blabbering about innocuous stuff and nothing about serious topics like the current state of the economy, thank God. After all, ultrarunning is my escape from the real world and we need to keep it that way.

Tom and Kirstin hosted the Saturday training run that took place in single digit temps. They had 44 runners show and thankfully, no serious mishaps or issues with the cold. Runners provided their own drop bags that were shuttled to two aid stations, and were treated to a warm bonfire at the finish. Tom and Kir are very experienced at hosting MMT training runs and many successful MMT 100 finishers have credited these runs as the top reason for their finish.

On Sunday, we ran the "Gap to Gap" out and back run from mile 39 at Gap Creek to mile 64 of the MMT course. I started with the group (which numbered over 50 runners this year, above photo), but after running/walking the first sick, ridiculously rocky section on Kerns Mountain with Jill and Deb, I ran an alternative course that includes running down Waterfall Mountain. This section has been included in past MMT races but will not be part of the 2009 course. Nevertheless, I managed to convince Greg Loomis and John Casilly, both of whom will be running in MMT this May, to join me. We had a great time pointing out significant MMT landmarks for John, who is a MMT newbie, and pushing the pace up on the rocks at Bird Knob. (full disclosure: I DETEST the rocks of MMT but I try to tolerate them once a year with my best Shining Attitude).

Each runner is asked to contribute to the aid stash--there are three aid opportunities at Gap to Gap. The run is always expertly organized by Quatro Hubbard and Mike Bur, who make sure that others make donations to the bonfire firewood stash and to the post-run food buffet. This year I thought I made enough Brunswick Stew to feed an army but when we returned after 6.5 hours, all the stew was gone. Bummer! I heard it was well-received, though. year I guess I need to triple the already tripled recipe.

After the run, we warmed up by the bonfire telling dirty jokes, comparing the day's adventures, and sharing upcoming racing plans. Jim Beam made his usual appearance as well as hot chocolate and Jill Quivey's healthy recovery bars. Each year I always have the same reaction when I run into Gap Creek after 25 miles on the trails of Massanutten Mountain: "Thank God I am not running MMT---I HATE those rocks!" This year was no different--my body, particularly my feet, takes a beating on that trail. I am truly in awe of the folks who run MMT year after year. It may be beautiful, but is a brutal trail.

When I got home I curled up on the couch and watched the "We Are One" inaugural concert with Rusty. In my post-run weariness I got weepy at different moments, like when Tom Hanks read Aaron Copland's salute to Abe Lincoln, when Martin Luther King III reflected back on his father's "I Have a Dream" speech, when Obama addressed the screaming crowds on the Mall, and when the crowds sang "This Land Is My Land" along with Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen. And I really lost it when Josh Groban and Heather Headley sang "My Country Tis Of Thee," as my inner trail lover was reminded once again of the soulful lyrics from the second verse:

My native country, thee,
land of the noble free, thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
thy woods and templed hills;
my heart with rapture thrills, like that above.

Today and tomorrow, we celebrate history! Dr. King's birthday, the National Day of Service that commemorates his legacy of service, and the inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States and our first African-American president. I am numb with emotion and hopefulness and overwhelmed by the significance of it all.

Perhaps the rocks, and the real world, aren't so bad after all.

More pictures from the run are here.


running etc said...

Well done, dear friend. The running AND the writing. :)

farmgirl said...

A lovely and deeply thoughtful post. I agree with you about the second verse of "My Country..."
I especially love the end when you were watching the We Are One Concert. Remember 16 years ago at the Clinton Celebration, when Aretha's mink nearly did me in?
Let's get together soon.

Meemaw said...

Your posting today is so uplifting and thoughtful. I feel privileged to learn more in depth about your life "underfoot". I imagine you are an inspiration to so many! love♥ Mom

annette bednosky said...

Ahh Sophie,
Leave it to you to post something that leaves me weepy! Thank the universe for friends, for folks like MLK Jr with so much vision and courage and I spread hope to tomorrow's transition that all of us will all the more celebrate this land we call home!

Rick Gray said...

Holidays are wonderful times to reflect on just how lucky we are to be a part of this great country. Friends and wonderful trails add to a wonderful day. Looks like you all had a wonderful weekend. How lucky we are! Rick

ultrastevep said...


Very nice post, so appropriate for yesterday and also for our runs in the Massanuttens over the weekend.

Can we talk you into some more rocks at the Reverse ring late February?

BTW: Great stew ;-)

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