Barring any last-minute additions, the roster for the 101.8 miles of Massanutten fun is set. This race has a maximum field limit of 160 - a little lower than some 100 milers since it's tough to ensure enough quality support for runners on this terrain. The Race Director(s) put safety and quality first, and rightly so. The good news is, despite the smaller field, there is no lack of elite runners signed up to duke it out on the hills of the Shenandoahs next weekend. Fresh off my 17:05 at Umstead, my goal is to break 24 hours (that's how much harder this course is), and in doing so most likely finish in the top 10. Not too many years have gone by in the history of this race where 10 people have broken that time barrier. It's that tough of a course. The reward for a sub-24 finish is a SILVER buckle - everyone else gets a pewter one. There is, of course, no shame in the pewter buckle, but seeing how few silver ones exist out there, I'm really gunning for that goal. I'll post more about my plans/goals in the race next week, but for now, here's a quick run-down of the elites/notables in the race:
Sean Andrish - 2004 Winner (20:49) - He looks to be running strong this spring, so I expect him to go for the win right from the starting gun.
Serge Arbona - Remember him from his Umstead win last month? Well, we'll line up again next week, only this time on a much tougher terrain. He's never won this race but has two solid times (22:47 and 22:53) to his credit. Look for him to run close to that time again and finish Top 5.
Adam Casseday - Sort of a dark horse in this race. He's never run Massanutten before, but as a West Virgina guy he's surely got plenty of training in on this type of terrain. If his speed on shorter distances translates here, he could contend for a podium spot.
Joe Clapper - Sure, it was back in 1995, but his 23:39 finish that year deserves a mention here. I would be lucky to have someone mention a 23-hour finish of mine 13 years from now.
Keith Knipling - Part of the historic Knipling tandem, Keith and his dad Gary essentially ARE the Massanutten Mountain 100 miler. Gary is going for his 11th(!!!) finish this year, and last year Keith (with 8 finishes of his own) really stepped it up to break 24 hours for the first time with a crazy-fast 21:18. If he comes back in that kind of shape this year, look for him to hang close to the front all day long.
Mike Mason - Great mix of speed and endurance, he comes back to Massanutten healthy and ready to improve on his 22:33 from 2006. He will contend all day long.
Tom Neilsen - This 2003 winner (21:55) from California is back to show the young guns he's still got mad skills in the hills (he's 48 years young).
Michael Schuster - Another dark horse with good speed at the shorter distances. Has a DNF on this course in the past, so look for him to avenge that this time around.
Todd Walker - Here's my pick to fight it out w/ Sean Andrish for the win. He's one of only 6 people to ever break 20 hours on this course (and he's done it twice - 19:13 in '06 and 19:24 in '05). Last year he clicked off a 21:11. The amazing thing about all these fantastic finishing times is he's NEVER WON. That's just a crime. Look for him to end that streak next weekend.
Brennen Wysong - Another sub 24 hopeful with a 24:37 finish last year. He's that much more familiar w/ the trail now. Look for a sub-24 and top 10 for him this time around.