100 Miles on the Horizon - Massanutten

100 Miles on the Horizon - Massanutten

As the end of 2018 came, I began planning some races to take on in 2019 and focused on the long ones. The ultra community is growing quickly, meaning popular races are filling up faster, sometimes within minutes of registration opening, even 100-mile ultras. Some races, like the one I successfully got into, offer a lottery, rather than a first-come-first-served approach, to make it fair to all who apply.

Massanutten Mountain Trail race (MMT) will be the next 100-mile race I take on. I don't know if I'm more excited because of all the great things I've heard about the race, or because it gave me an excuse to withdraw from the other race I was signed up for - the Cruel Jewel 100, which is without question, one of the most challenging East Coast 100s. Not that Massanutten isn't challenging, but the Cruel Jewel was designed to be incredibly tough and cruel to your legs.

Image from https://iseetrails.wordpress.com/

Massanutten takes places in North Central Virginia, traversing along the Massanutten Mountain range (a portion of the Appalachian Mountains). Not through any coincidence, the Cruel Jewel is also along the Appalachian mountain range, just in the Georgia section close to the start of the Appalachian trail. A little bit of an aside here - the same geologic event that created the Appalachian Mountains in the USA created the mountains or fells of Scotland, so kind of like running in Scotland (kind of... but not really).

The Research Begins

If you've followed this blog, it should come as no surprise that I dove into the results and data surrounding the race. If you're new, welcome! The Virginia Happy Trails Running Community (VHTRC) puts on the MMT and does a fantastic record keeping job not only of final results, but also of splits, all sorted into a nice database (woo, thanks!). I have not gone over the splits (that will be next), but I wanted to explore overall finish times and trends.

Not only is a research project like this fun, but it really helps me to understand when most people finish and helps manage my expectations when I run it, considering I've only completed one previous 100. My training will be a bit more extensive this time and goals a little more realistic. I'm excited to take on this challenge, especially earlier in the year. If only my plantar would stop hurting...

Diving In

The data runs back to the inception of the MMT in 1995. There were only 31 runners that first year, and then 37 the next year. Over the past two decades, there has been a noticeable uptick in the number of people finishing the race. It has since grown to have around 150 finishers.

MMT Finishers Over the Years

Another trend I observed was that the number of female finishers continues to increase over the years. However, this does not explore whether or not the number of men and women entering the race has changed at all, nor those that DNF'd, this dataset only includes finishers. There is more to be gleaned from the data when looking at the times throughout the race.

The next question I had was what the overall finish distribution looked like. That is, when do most people finish?

MMT Overall Finisher Distribution

Half of all finishers from all years cross the finish line at just under 31 hours, while the average time to finish comes in at 30.5 hours. The distribution is skewed with a leading tail and a bulk of finishers coming in after 31 hours. The cutoff is 36, making it likely that the group of people finishing the hour before 36 were cutting it close to some of the time restrictions along the way.

This gives me a good idea of a time to strive for. Eastern States had a similar distribution. Based on my performance there, I think a goal of 34 hours would be a safe target, but I know I can do better. My stretch goal would be to finish under 28 hours. Realistically, though, finishing in 30-31 hours should be attainable... I'm just an average guy after all.

Breakdown By Years

Let's break down some of the finish times by years now. I did something similar for Hyner and then again for my look at Western States. This looks at each finisher's rank for each year.

MMT Individual Finishers

The shape of each year changes naturally with the number of runners involved since there are more places and therefore a longer curve. However, the interesting bit is how the lines shift a little farther down each year. Look closely at the line farthest down - that's the fastest year on record, 2006.

That year, Karl "Speedgoat" Meltzer entered the race, probably in hopes of winning it. He would have set a new course record, breaking the 18-hour mark with a time of 17:58:00, but Sim Jae Duk beat him to the line with a time of 17:40:00. I can only imagine that was a fun year to watch those two. I'm sure there have been other exciting years as well, but that one stands out since 17:40 is still the course record.

I was curious to see how fast the race has gotten as the sport has grown. I averaged the top 10 finish times from each year. You'll notice it's gotten faster. I could've drawn a trendline, but that's a little obnoxious, right?

MMT Top 10 finishers

Not for me, but if you want to make the top 10, you've gotta be under 24 hours! Maybe one day.

But Wait There's More

Why stop there? What about seeing how the distribution changed over time? In GIF form! Sure, why not? This is a density distribution. A quick primer: the y-axis shows the percentage of people that finished, in that year, at a given time (x-axis). The vertical line is the median finish time for that year.

Finishing times in a gif

Cool right?

Wait, what about a box-plot of finish times... It's a lot to look at but has some useful information.

This has been fun to explore. And maybe I'll step up my game and dive into the splits data. This unfortunately won't help my training, but may help my confidence come race day, especially when determining whether or not I will have a good color scheme going forward.

Data is from the VHTRC's Results page.

Thanks for reading or checking out the graphics.

About Tomas Castillo

I'm an ultramarathon runner, and outdoorsman when I can, while keeping bees and playing with data on the side. I plan on sharing my explorations and adventures here.

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