Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bull Run Run 50 Miler - April 11, 2015

By the time I remember to sign up for Bull Run Run 50 Miler entry lottery this year it had already closed.  Fortunately I am able to get on the wait list, although without the priority that being on it from having lost the lottery would have provided.  For the fourth consecutive year fewer people try to enter the race and I move quickly onto the entrants list as people withdraw.

Two weeks before the race legendary ultrarunner (and all-round universally acclaimed nice guy) Tom Green asks me to join his team in an effort to win the oldest team award. "You won't have to do anything except finish the run under 13 hours," Tom cheerily assures me.

I agree to be on the team and then find out that it consists of some of the legends of the BRR: 71 year-old Frank Probst, who has finished 22 BRRs; 68 year-old Bob Anderson with 16 BRR finishes; and 64 year-old Tom, who is the only other person besides Frank to have finished all 22 BRRs. Tom is a few months older than me, making me the baby on the team Huffin and Puffins.  And the least experienced with only six BRR finishes.  The team is a total of 267 years old, easily 30 or 40 years older than the next oldest team.  We'll win if I can finish, because I know that the other three will finish.

The last few BRRs have been a bit of a struggle for me, I've averaged 12:30 in the last three BRRs (12:34, 12:09, 12:47).  I ran some with Tom last year and had to tell him to go on as I stopped on the final hill to empty my stomach - twice.  So he knows that this is not an easy race for me.  Still, he has enough confidence in me to ask that I join this team of legends. Nevertheless, I feel pressure. I can't let the legends down.

Three of These Four Are Legends
(Pick the one that does not belong)

17-time finisher
Bob, 68
(photo by Beni Hawkins)
23-time finisher
Frank, 71
(photo by Beni Hawkins)

7-time finisher
Ken, 64
(photo by Beni Hawkins)
23-time finisher
Tom, 64
(photo by Beni Hawkins)

Little Big Data
I have aid station split times for five of my six previous Bull Runs.  I ran the 2010 and 2011 BRRs in 11:16 and 11:34 and the 2012-14 BRRs in times ranging from 12:09 to 12:47, averaging 12:30.  I figure that the last three are more representative of what I am likely to run today, so I construct a pace card based on those three performances. When I use the data to extrapolate for a column at 12:45 pace, the last two segments covering the final 10 miles, produces a 13:16 finish, well over the 13 hour cutoff.  The only thing I can do is manually increase the pace for those two segments and rename the column the 13 hour pace column.  In short, I have no room for error if I want to support the Huffin and Puffins.

Been Here Before
Mark shows up promptly at my house at 450 a.m. and we are quickly on our way for the 40 minute drive to Hemlock Overlook for the race.  We stop at Seven-Eleven to pick up a cup of tea, park in the preferred carpool area, pick up our bibs and race swag, place our drop bags in the area for them and chat with old friends.

I run into Tom Green and he tells me that he plans to start off quickly to avoid the early bottlenecks where the back of the pack has to wait for those ahead of them to clear stream crossings or rocky stretches.  (I'll only see Tom once on the course today, as he heads back from the turnaround in the bluebells while I'm still headed toward it. He finishes in 11:38, more than an hour faster than last year.)

A bugler plays a martial air, someone sings the National Anthem and the race is off at 630 a.m. with a thin cloud cover failing to hide a waning moon with moderate temperatures. 

Not too many bluebells this year.
Mark and I start off together and leapfrog a bit with Stephanie, Marshall and Mike.  Stephanie and Marshall are steady runners who can keep a pace for hours, so the fact that they are a bit behind means nothing. (Sure enough they pull away around mile 28 and finish in 11:45.)

The Tyranny of the Pace Card
I get to the first aid station at Centerville Road (mile 7.2) in 1:39, about midway between the 12:30 pace and the 12:45 (now marked 13 hour) pace. That pacing repeats itself at the turnaround in the bluebells (mile 9.4) and back at Centerville Road (mile 11.6) even though my left foot sinks eight inches (that's about two inches above the ankle) into mud at one point.  fortunately I don't lose my shoe.  It repeats at all twelve aid stations through Marina at mile 44.9. Keep it up and I'll be in good shape.  But if something goes amiss there is little margin for error.

Vegan Cheesecake and OK Cupid; or Love on the Trail 
On the return from Centerville Road to Hemlock I run with a couple.  She tells me that they met while at a previous BRR while pacing a friend.  He was running and a mutual friend introduced them, thinking that as fellow vegans and runners them might have a certain degree of compatibility, which, it turns out, they did.

I note that I have recently attended two weddings where the parties had met via match.com.  She had tried OKCupid,com but the only men she met were older and, she thought, more interested in hook-ups than serious relationships. Maybe it was a Washington area problem, she speculated, in that people were more interested in their careers than their personal life.

I mention the abomination of vegan cheesecake that was on an Easter buffet that we attended. Seriously, what is the point of omitting the cheese from the cheesecake? It's called cheesecake for a very good reason - an accurate description of what it is.  You want tofu cake? Fine, just don't mislabel it as cheesecake. I'll report you to the FDA or USDA, or whoever is responsible for proper food labeling.

She tells me that not only is vegan cheesecake tasty, but that there will be some at the post-race food.  Further she describes how it is often made with almond? walnut? flour.  I agree to try some when I finish.  Unfortunately there was none left by the time I did.

Trail Maintenance
BRR is a no sitting race.
Somewhere outbound between Marina (mile 21.1) and Wolf Run Shoals (mile 26.1) I ask a runner I catch up to, "You're Frank, correct?  Getting an affirmative answer, I introduce myself to Frank Probst and tell him that I'm the guy Tom recruited to the team.

We run along together and Frank tells me how he brought a handsaw out to the trail earlier in the year to clear a fallen tree.  He didn't want another notable BRR character, Gary Knipling, to have to lug his chainsaw that far. (Gary is also 71 and will finish his 19th BRR in 11:45 today.)  He points out the tree to me and says that it took him three hours to saw it and then he asked some passing hikers to help him roll the cut log out of the way.

Goodbye . . .
I gradually pull away from Frank.  This is a great relief to me as it means that if I can stay ahead of him, I'm pretty much assured of making the 13 hour cutoff. Furthermore, I can see Mark in the near distance.  If I can catch and keep up with him that will be another bit of assurance of finishing.
Leaving Fountainhead AS and heading into the White Loop I steadily gain on him.  The loquacious Mark is chatting with another runner and as they hook around one of the switchbacks I warn the other fellow, "Be careful, he's paid by the word!"

Spiderman, me and Batman in the Do Loop.
One of these three is not a superhero.
(Photo by Mark Zimmermann)
Shortly thereafter I catch up to them and the three of us trot on through the loop, cross the park road, pass the signs warning of the archery range to the right, go up and down some more of the course's never ending hills and reach the Do Loop AS. Mark has been hankering for a green ice pop there, but all they have are multi-colored ones.  He gets one but I get distracted by refilling my water bottle and getting some watermelon and leave without one.

After running the relatively short - and inevitable up-and-down - path to the loop proper, we get to enjoy the wide, smooth, gradual downhill that takes us to where we have views of the boathouse on the Occoquan and the many boats on the water for a crew regatta. Entering the Do Loop proper provides a psychological boost because it means that one will no longer see runners headed in-bound while you are still headed outbound.

Then it is back to up-and-downs for the return to the Do Loop AS.  Mark mentions that he is feeling a bit tired from his 75-mile effort two weeks earlier at the Umstead 100 (cut short by blisters). We are joined by Mike E. who finished Umstead in a nice sub-24 hour performance.  Mike's back is bothering him a bit. I mention that I'm feeling a bit light-headed or otherwise not quite right but that it feels better when running than walking.

Leave the Weak for the Hyenas
Back at the Do Loop I remember to get an ice pop for the return.  I look around for Mark and don't see him.  Seeing me searching, the runner we had been with in the White Loop says, "Your friend is up ahead,  He took off.  He said something about being concerned that you might not be feeling that you could finish."  I look down the trail and can see Mark, but he is well along. It is the last I will see of him until the finish. (He later apologizes for going off with an adieu, explaining that he was simply trying to not lose too much time in aid stations.  He also buys me a hot dog and drink at Seven Eleven on the way home.)

I feel a bit like the weak and elderly in the herds of antelope in Africa.  If you can't stay with the herd you get left behind.  Without the strength of the herd you are easy pickings for the predators that lurk to pick-off the defenseless, solitary creature on the long journey.

But at least I'm still ahead of Frank!  So long as I can do that I'm safe.

. . . and Hello and Goodbye
At the Fountainhead AS I replenish my supply of Succeed salt tablets.  I've been careful to take a Succeed and a gel every hour to ward off dehydration.  To keep from getting overheated I've been wetting my handkerchief at the aid stations and wiping my face and arms with the cold water.  A sudden insight has me dunk my buff in the cold water and put it on my neck and pull it over my head.  It may look a bit strange but it provides cold water to my head and neck as well as some water running down my chest.  The cooling feels good.

Headed up the long hill back to the Wolf Run AS I'm greeted by an overtaking runner.  It's Frank! He tells me that he started to feel much better in the Do Loop.  That's obvious as he strides past me, restocks at the aid station and steadily pulls away.

I'm back to being on my own again.  The only question is whether the hyenas and lions lie in wait over the last ten miles. In prior years they often have.

Intel is Important
As Frank disappears into the distance (at the age of 71, he'll finish in 12:21, 34 minutes faster than last year) I leave the superhero-themed Wolf Run Shoals AS (mile 39.9) in the company of two other runners.  Ray lives in Manassas and frequently runs this portion of the trail.  He provides valuable information about how far it is to the Marina AS (mile 44.9) based on the trail's mile posts.

And then he let's us in on a secret: the miles are "compressed," that is they are less than a mile apart. This is psychologically encouraging in that it means we don't have to run as far as we have been led to believe, but it is also irrelevant. Time is what matters, not distance, and the cutoffs and the pace card, the damn pace card, measurer of how long it takes to travel from one fixed point to another, regardless of the absolute meters, miles, kilometers or yards between them, has taken distance into account and transformed it into time. The cutoff of 11:30 at Marina and 13:00 at the finish means that there is 90 minutes between them, not 5.5 miles as the official distance says or 5.09 miles as Ray says. The time matters, not the distance.

To the End
In recent years I have never been able to run between the final aid station at Marina and the finish in less than 90 minutes.  So beating the 11:30 cutoff at Marina will not be enough to finish in under 13 hours.  Get there in 11:15 is cutting it close but is doable.  Faster is better.

I get to Marina in 10:54.  It's a huge relief.  More than two hours remain and that means I can walk it in if  need be.  I do walk a fair amount with Ray but finally decide to push on a bit.  I'm doing fine, I try to be careful on the rocky stretches. But crossing a small rocky stream my left foot slips and goes into the water and as I try to step out and over a large flat rock my left shin scrapes against it, I loose my balance, my left knee bangs down and I tumble to the ground winding up on my back. No great harm: a sore right palm, a superficially bloody left knee and a few inches of scraped left shin, with a bit of dirt for a dressing.

Another mile or so then up the final hill toward Hemlock.  I go slowly, not wanting to trigger muscle memory (or more accurately, stomach memory) of the times and places I've vomited here in BRRs gone by.  And I succeed.  Walk a bit more, than run to the finish where I cross the line in 12:30, having made up nine minutes on the pace card.

Tom and I with the Team Champion blankets.
(Photo by Caroline Williams)
I'm the last of the Huffin and Puffins to finish, but I've fulfilled my obligation to get to the finish with the other legends. Tom is at the finish to greet me.  We are announced as the oldest team (but not the slowest!) and Tom and I collect the blankets for ourselves, Frank and Bob. It is the third time I've been on a winning team - twice for slowest team and now for oldest. Tom tells me, "You're now officially old and slow!"

Swag: Bag, Buff, Hat and Bib
atop a BRR Team Champion Blanket

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Runners Marathon of Reston - March 29, 2015

Free Marathon!
Who could resist such an offer? OK, lots of people but not me, even if it is a week after running a 50K.  Following the truncation of the George Washington Birthday Marathon, the DC Road Runners work a deal with the Reston Runners to allow GWBM runners to run for free in the Runners Marathon of Reston on March 29, 2015.

We get no race premiums and are not eligible for prizes. We run with GWBM bibs, our times are recorded separately and we are awarded GWBM finishers medals instead of Runners Marathon medals. Persons signed up for both races are awarded both medals.  Twenty-two of us take up the offer.

The race is a low-key, early spring, suburban marathon located in the planned community on Reston, Virginia.  The course is two loops of a mixture of about 60 percent roads and 40 percent paved hiker-biker trails largely through neighborhoods of single family houses, town houses, garden apartments and secondary roads with some shopping centers, office buildings and churches.  The scenery is nothing special but not unattractive.  The course has some gentle rolls bun no lung-burners; the difference between the high and low spots on the course is only 164 feet and the two points are nearly seven miles course miles apart

There is also a half marathon that starts with the marathoners. At the end of the day there will be 130 Runners marathon, 22 GWBM and 282 half marathon finishers.  With the half marathoners gone after the first loop there is plenty of space for the marathoners to spread out.  Aid stations every couple of miles are well maintained by volunteers and plenty of course marshals and police provide protection at intersections.  With only 430 runners in the events crowds are not surprisingly sparse.

22 degrees at the start. GWBM shirt.
It's a workman-like day. Nothing particularly special: just show up, book the miles, finish.  A day better described in vignettes that a narrative.

Lyrics Can be Hard to Remember
The start line is about a two minute walk from South Lakes High School where packet pickup and the post-race meal is located.  Someone who is going to run the race is introduced as the singer of the National Anthem.  He goes along nicely until he gets to "O'er the ramparts we watch'd" and then he stops. There is an awkward moment of silence before he picks up again.  To help him along the crowd joins in to sing the rest of the Anthem.

Bad Joke #1
"Nice job!" the volunteer offers as I run pass.

"If it were really a nice job," I reply, "I'd have the weekend off and be getting paid for it."

How Cold Was It?
It was so cold  . . .
. . . that the Gatorade at one of the early aid stations was slushy.
. . . that when I stopped to use a Porta-Potty around mile 11 the stream of urine steamed.
. . . that I didn't take off my outer shirt until mile 25.

Any Sox is Better Than No Sox #1
"Interesting arm warmers," I offer.

"They are my husband's socks," she replies, "Well, they were."

She is wearing white athletic socks as hand and arm warmers, but her fingers are free, as she has cut off the toe enclosure.  A couple of hours later, just after starting the second loop, I spot one on the ground, and a little further along, the other, forlorn-looking with their unravelling ends where toes once kept warm.

Bad Joke #2
A spectator holds up a sign proclaiming "This is a No Walken Zone" with a picture of Oscar-winning actor Christopher Walken on it.

"Nice humor," I offer, then pause. "But don't quit your day job."

Play That Funky Music, Incredibles
Headed up the hill toward the aid station short of mile 24, the 1970s hit from Wild Cherry, Play That Funky Music is booming. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible are there, too, on either side of the path.  I stop in front of them and bust out my finest dance moves, maybe even better than those I did at Potomac Heritage 50K for which I earned a 25 minute bonus.

The Incredibles applaud and then high-five me while I head out.

Running Happy!
(Photo by Brian Kent Photography)
Any Sox is Better Than No Sox #2
I come alongside a women running in minimalist sandals. Her heels are bare but the front of her feet are in pink that match her Marathon Maniacs shirt.

I inquire if she isn't cold.  Her friend answers that the woman often runs barefoot.

"Too cold for that today," the woman says. "But I forgot my toe socks so I have had to put my gloves on my feet."  

A second look confirms that the fingers of the gloves extend beyond the front of the sandals. The two gradually pull away from me but I catch up with them around mile 25, where the toe gloves are still in place .

What's Your Name?
"What year did you run Wineglass Marathon?" I ask the orange-shirted runner ahead of me. We chat a bit and then he introduces himself. "I'm Dave," he says. 

"Ken," I reply.

"I probably won't remember your name by the time we get to the next corner," he says, "I'm awful on names."

"No problem, Charley," I quip, "I've got the same problem."

"Wow!" he exclaims, "We share the same name!"

Dave has not only run the Wineglass Marathon, but he is from Corning and is on the race committee. "I'm the only one on the committee who runs the race," he tells me.  We share tales of running Finger Lakes 50s and Monster Marathon.  I tell of my preference for trail running and he tells how he has given up trails as his ankles give he problems with stability.

Macon Time
In the first couple of miles I run awhile with a fellow from Macon, Georgia.  He's wearing a Marathon Maniacs shirt (there were a lot of them out there).  He's taking his time and I gradually pull away from him. There is a little out-and back section of the course at mile 7 and we exchange greetings as we pass in opposite directions; him outward bound and me on my way back. We do it again on the second loop, now about mile 20.

Well beyond mile 24 he goes booking past me. "I gotta be headed back to Georgia," he says, as he goes on to finish 90 seconds ahead of me after being about 7 minutes behind at the half.

The Details
I finish in 4:33:56 with half marathon splits of 2:10 and 2:23.  I'm 11/13 males and 13 of 22 GWBM runners.  Had I been in the Runners Marathon of Reston I would have won my age group. Had I been in the next oldest age group I would not have even placed.
George Washington Birthday Marathon Swag at the Reston Marathon: A bib and a medal.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K - March 21, 2015

Rain and snow on Friday promise to bring challenging conditions to the already once-postponed Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K and Marathon. But there isn't too much of either; just enough to assure that SCGT will stay true to its reputation for having early spring mud or worse.

Don has warned us that the ironically named Dry Seneca Creek will not be dry and that the water may be high enough to cover the rocks that would otherwise allow one to cross it with feet. The night before I recall a trick that Gayatri once mentioned to keep feet dry.  I pack the secret supplies for it in case it is necessary.

The morning of the race is cool - in the 30s - but the forecast calls for highs to reach the 50s with partial sunshine and no precipitation. Pretty good weather conditions for a day of trail running.

For the first time in the history of the race there is no need to drive to the finish to be bused to the start as the race will start and end in Seneca Creek State Park, greatly simplifying logistics. With the completion of the Seneca Bluffs trail the course now can run outbound on the west side of the creek and inbound on the east side with a minimum amount of overlap, particularly for the 50K runners.

There are fewer runners at the start than in previous years, probably due to the race's postponement as it is on the same day as the HAT50K. In fact, participation is significantly depressed and there will only be a total of 173 finishers in both distances (106 50K; 67 marathon) down 40 percent from last year's 289 (206/83) finishers. Although the website said transfers were not permitted, the postponement led to a little-announced change of the policy.  I get a transfer from Barry who is running HAT.

Early in the day with Monika just behind.
(Photo by Conroy Zien )
Running Versus Racing
Milling about at the start I greet Jim and Monika.  Both are planning to do the marathon distance.  Monika is coming off running a 100K last week in Charlottesville so today is a bit of a recovery run for her.  For me on the other hand, it is a chance to begin some earnest training for Bull Run Run 50 miler on April 11. Since Potomac Heritage 50K in November my longest run has been 14 miles, so I need some serious long runs. 

Monika and I start out together. The race starts with a bit of a loop on the park road to spread out the runners before heading onto the single track of the Greenway Trail.  In some spots the road is slick with ice from previous day's rain and footing is better on the light coating of crunchy snow at the side of the road.

Billabong Bob's Tiki Bar and Aid Station at Riffle Ford Road.
(Photo by Conroy Zien )
As is usual for trail runners, or at least for those who are running and not racing, we chat about myriad topics.  Monika won the 2006 SCGT Marathon but now she says she just runs rather than races and finds it is less stressful and allows her to enjoy the day more.

The trail is in generally in very good shape. There is no snow on it - at least for those of us towards the back of the pack - and the previous day's precipitation has made the ground soft.  That's the case on the higher portions of the trail, but there is still plenty of mud in low-lying areas and where water drains across the trail.

Through Tiki Bar-themed aid station at Riffle Ford Road, across the road and onto the trail.  It has been several years that I have run on this part of the Greenway Trail but the memory of it comes back with every step on what seems like an old friend (were one to run on an old friend). It is mostly flat to Germantown Road where we have to wait for several cars to pass on the two-lane road before the course marshals allow us to go on.  Then some up and down and we reach Black Rock Mill, which will be the decision point on the way back for choosing between the two distances.

On Seneca Bluffs trail just south of Route 28.
In a bit over a mile we reach the Route 28 aid station (about mile 8).  I refill my water pack and grab so potato chips, M&Ms, trail mix and cookies. One of the great things about trail running is eating junk food without guilt all day.  It isn't even 9 a.m. and I'm gorging on snack foods for the second time today - I did likewise earlier at the Tiki Bar when the time was barely past 7:30 a.m.  I  look around for Monika, but she is already gone. Crossing Route 28 to get to the Seneca Bluffs trailhead on the other side of the creek I see her back in the distance. That's the last that I see her.  For someone running and not racing she still manages to be fourth in her age group in the marathon.

Poole's General Store at Old River Road.
It's all northbound from here.
This is my first time on Seneca Bluffs Trail, which was built by bikers who are not permitted to ride on the Greenway Trail on the other side of the creek.  It is nice to run on a new trail. Without having run on the trail and without mile posts as on the Greenway Trail it is a nice timeless, distance-free run. Just run. Don't worry about where you are, how far you have gone, how far you have to go.  Live in the present.

Finally I reach the inaccurately named Dry Seneca Creek,.  There are large rocks in the stream but the water is up to them and one is under water.  I briefly consider employing Gayatri's trick, but fear the water may be moving too swiftly and the rocks too slippery to be effective.  Instead I resign myself to cold wet feet for awhile.

Soon enough I reach Old River Road, turn left, pass Poole's General Store, cross the bridge over Seneca Creek and head north.  Race Director Paul drives next to me and inquires about course conditions and offers a ride on his roof.  I decline the offer.

Paul drives on and stops to chat with the course marshal directing runners back into the woods and onto the trail.  Catching up to him I ask if he would like me to carry the car.  We both chuckle.

"One Amazing Trick for Crossing Streams!"  
I'm now back on the familiar Greenway Trail. Some up and down, then past a sign marking mile 15, then up and a steep down to a stream tributary.  No way to get across dry-foot, so now it is time for the "One Amazing Trick for Crossing Streams!"  I reach into my pocket and pull out two newspaper delivery plastic bags.  But I can't find the rubber bands that were going to secure the tops and I neglected to try pulling them on over my running shoes at home.  I struggle and finally get them over the shoes and the trick works! I get across with dry feet!  The Berryville aid station (about mile 16) is on the other side of the crossing and I discard the bags.

Route 28 in the background and
the AS just beyond
The trail on the way back to Route 28 has some muddy but also has some runnable sections.  About five or six of us form a convoy and keep each other company along this stretch with subgroups occasionally leapfrogging one another.  Soon enough we can spot the Route 28 bridge ahead just past the 20 mile sign.  By now most of the light coating of snow that lay on the grass and leaves is gone.

At the aid station on the other side of Route 28 I grab a handful of the usual snacks and walk the trail while eating.  It's still not noon and I've been eating junk food all morning without the slightest sense of guilt or remorse.  That freedom from self-nagging is reason enough to run these races.

In a little over a mile I approach Black Rock Mill, where runners get to choose whether to run the marathon or the 50K. I'm with a woman runner and I ask her which way she is going. She says wants to think that she hasn't made a final decision yet. I press her a bit and she admits that she came to run the 50K and that is what she is going to do, but like the idea that she can pretend that she has not really decided to go the longer distance.

Looking back toward Black Rock Mill and heading onto the 50K course. 
Reaching the mill we both head right onto the Seneca Ridge Trail rather than left where would retrace our steps on the Greenway Trail.  Like Seneca Bluffs Trail the Seneca Ridge Trail was built by bikers. Oddly enough I don't see any bikers or either trail all day.

The trail is hillier and longer than the Greenway trail, but is nearly devoid of mud. I leapfrog a younger man who has a woman running with him. He tells that it is her first 50K and she says that he talked her into it at the mill.

" Did he tell you this is more like 55K?" I ask.

Mile 25 somewhere on Seneca Ridge Trail.
"No," she replies, casting a glance at her companion.

"No worry," I say, "the marathon is closer to 29 miles anyway."

We cross Germantown Road and after a few more miles return to Billabong Bob's Tiki Bar aid station. After exchanging mildly ribald exchanges with coconut-bra wearing Bob and some other volunteers I'm on my way with a green plastic lei.

A Mom, A Son and A Dog
I come across a woman carrying an SLR camera together with a young teenage boy and a large friendly dog.

"Get any good pictures?" I inquire.

"Some," she says.

"Any interesting birds?"

"I've been taking pictures of my son and our dog," she admits.

Trying to stay dry north of Riffle Ford Road.
(Photo by Conroy Zien )
"So based on your picture taking, who do you love more?" I tease.

The son points to the dog.

The End Is Not in Sight
The 30 mile sign looms nearly a half mile before the final aid station where the trail intersects the park road.  Motown provides the musical background for more snack food and a topping up of the Nathan as I head to the right to run around Clopper Lake on the 50K course.

Mile 30, wearing a lei, and not even to the park to
start the 3 mile Clopper Lake loop.
It's about a three mile loop around the lake to the finish. From the south side of the lake, which one runs around first, one can see the boat center on the opposite shore. Frustratingly, it seems like one is making no progress in coming abreast of it. The lake has a heavily indented shoreline, and running around the inlets and coves take time without make much forward progress.  Once the boat center is finally passed another frustration arises - trying to spot the end of the lake.  Again, the meandering trail and the geography of the lake create frustration and impatience.  But finally, finally! the end of the lake is reached, and transited and I'm on the side where the finish lies.

Two women have been leapfrogging me around the lake.  One had a device in her pack playing - moderately loudly - a Pandora-selected set of running music. She senses that it isn't my style- could our three decades of age difference have anything to do with that? - and offers to turn it off even though I have not said anything about it. I tell her no, that if it works for her keep it going.

The view from the far end of Clopper Lake. Finally!
Finally we crest the final rise and the boat center is not only in sight again but we are running past it. A little more trail, a couple of right turns and across the finish.

The Stats
As is the tradition of SCGT the 50K is "at least 31.1 miles." This year it is about 33 by my estimates.  Maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less, but definitely well more than 50K.

I finish in 8:09:47, good for 94/106 overall, 2 of 3 in my AG. My official pace is 14:51 per mile. It is my seventh, all consecutive, SCGT 50K.

Training is Bunk
On November 2, 2014 I ran the Potomac Heritage 50k. That was about 20 weeks prior to SCGT. During that period I ran ten or more miles exactly seven times and no run single run longer than 14 miles. I'm not fast and I don't try to be. But if you think you need to do incredible numbers of long runs in order to do a trail ultra, think again. As Nike advertises, just do it. Training is bunk.
Swag: bib, lei (from the Tiki Bar), snood and optional shirt.

Friday, March 6, 2015

George Washington Birthday Marathon (truncated) - February 21, 2015

Have a Plan B
Some things are not meant to be. Last year's George Washington Birthday Marathon was canceled due to a snowstorm.  With no make-up date, the DC Road Runners did the best they could, mailing runners their shirts, medals (for the race that wasn't) and a partial refund of the entry fee. It was only the third time since the February marathon began in 1962 that it was canceled.

Learning from experience, DCRRC had a make-up date for this year's edition of the race should it be necessary.  By Thursday, February 12, it was clear that cold and windy conditions on Sunday, February 15, were going to be beyond challenging and bordering on dangerous, so the race was postponed six days to Saturday, February 21.  It was the right call, as temperatures on the 15th bottoming out at 10 degrees with northwest winds of 20-31 miles per hour and gusts to 46 miles per hour.

Modeling the game face and taped shoes pre-race
Mother Nature decided to keep things challenging.  The forecast for the 21st called for temperatures in the upper teens rising into the twenties with calm winds, but with a near certainty of snow.  But to make things interesting both the amount, rate and timing of the snow was somewhat uncertain.

A 10 a.m. start for the race assured that the cold would not be too bad, but it also pushed the race closer to the timing of the oncoming snow.

Be Prepared
I was pretty much resigned to the likelihood that the later part of the race would be in the snow.  Running in the snow is not particularly bad - if it is not blowing in your face it is even peaceful.  But being wet is unpleasant, especially cold and wet.  In addition to wearing three shirts for warmth (one too many can be removed, one too few dooms you to cold), I tied a windbreaker around my waist for additional protection in shedding snow.  And I adopted an innovation from Don L. by putting duct tape on the front of my shoes, figuring that it would not only help retain heat from my Little Hotties toe warmers, but would retard moisture from getting in my shoes.  Thusly attired, with hat, buff, gloves and extra Hotties for my hands should the need arise, I headed out to the start with the rest of the optimist-runners

What sort of fool would run a marathon facing a snow storm?
These sorts especially - those wearing shorts and earmuffs.
The Audacity of Hope
There may be one hundred or so runners at the start line, including relay runners preparing to run the first loop of the three loop course (there's an additional 2.4 mile 'out' and a 1.9 mile 'back' on the first and third of the 7.3 mile loops).

It's a bit cold at the 10 a.m. start but no snow. If  the snow can hold off  until noon or 1 p.m., and not come down too heavy, we can get this done!

Within about a mile I fall in with Meenah and Sarah. Our paces match, and not only do I now have new friends to run with today, but runners who have never heard my stories before!  No need to worry that this is the fourth time I'm repeating an oft-told tale!

This is their first time running the GWB Marathon so I fill them in on the course.  I give them my opinion of the HAT 50K which they are signed up to do.  I'm sufficiently warmed up that I shed one of my three layers and tie the shirt around my waist.

When they ask what is my favorite marathon, I preface my remarks by saying that it isn't just a marathon, it is a costume party and one that is great fun.  When I say "Marathon du Medoc" a voice right behind us chimes in. "As soon as you said costume party I knew you were going to say Medoc," a woman comments.  "I ran it in 2008 and I agree with you."

Snow-encrusted at the end,
wearing the shirt from the 2014 non-marathon.
As we approach mile marker 4, a snowflake appears, then more.  It isn't even 11 a.m. and the snow has started. Unfortunately it isn't just spitting snow. In a short time it is snowing at a decent rate. The ground, frozen for over a week welcomes the flakes without melting them and soon the roads and shoulders of the roads are coated white.  Headed up the slight incline on Powder Mill Road near mile marker 9, the lane and shoulder lines have disappeared under a coating of white.  Cars coming down the hill are traveling slowly and we runners try to stay as far left as possible.

Game Over
A left turn off of the road brings us into the parking lot and relay exchange area.  I duck into a Porta Potty. When I come out race officials are telling runners that the race is canceled and we should either wait for the shuttle back to the Greenbelt Youth Center or run back.

I elect to run back.  The snow has picked up and as I'm now headed south, the snow is directly in my face. I've got my buff over my chin and around my cheeks but even at that I have to alternate looking up to see where I am going and down to keep from having snow in my face.  My glasses not only begin to fog up but begin to ice up.

I cross the finish line, or what would have been the finish line, but there is no clock and no volunteers. They are a bit further along loading equipment into a truck.  I run the three tenths of a mile back to the Youth Center where I enjoy the post race pizza, chili, cookies, candy (the National Confectioners Association is an official sponsor) and hot and cold beverages.

Volunteers urge the returning runners to take additional shirts from this year and last year, as well as other DCRRC shirts and even some Army Ten-Miler shirts someone brought.

The drive home is a nightmare on the Beltway.  Even creeping along there are places with no traction and vehicles slide sideways. Each driver gives all others a wide berth as downhills and banked roads allow gravity to play a far-too-large role in determining direction. What should have been a 20 minute drive (and was going to the start) takes well over 90 minutes to get home.

I finished my abbreviated 11.9 mile 'marathon' in a leisurely 2:04:37.  There are no official, - or unofficial - results. Runners on the course when the race was cancelled were either picked up or told to run back to the finish or the relay exchange area.

Despite an announced policy of no refunds, and runners knowing that the race could have been cancelled in its entirety, the DCRRC work a deal with the Reston Runners providing free entry into that group's Runners Marathon on March 29 for GWB Marathon runners.  In addition, runners will get a $15 credit toward the 2016 GWB marathon. Good people, those DCRRCs.  Maybe that's why I'm a member!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Potomac Heritage Trail 50K - November 1, 2014

I hadn't planned on running a 50K six days after Marine Corps Marathon.  The plan was to run Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K on November 8, but that date is Medals Day for the Baltimore City Fire Department and son Andrew is being awarded an Exemplary Performance Award, Distinguished Unit Citation and a CPR Save Award for his role on March 6 in saving three persons from a house fire and restoring the pulse and respiration of one of those persons in cardiac arrest. Obsessive runner that I may be, I'm a prouder parent, so Rosaryville gets scratched and I sign up for the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club low key Potomac Heritage Trail 50K  race on November 1.

Although separated by only six days, MCM and PHT are worlds apart.  MCM has 19,000 runners and thousands of spectators against 100 runners signed-up for PHT and no spectators.  Entry fee for MCM is around $100, while PHT is free.  MCM is chip-timed; PHT is self-timed. And MCM is 26.2 miles on pavement while PHT is 31.1 miles on dirt.

Follow the purple chalk
Woodley Park to the Potomac Heritage Trail
Gayatri offers to drive us to the start which is at Kerry and Doug's house in Woodley Park.  Although the official start is at 8 a.m. we have arranged to start early, about 7 a.m. Mark meets us there, and we meet Delia and Maureen from Annapolis who have also decided to start early. (We are not the earliest starters. Seventy-nine year old Eugene started at 3:30 a.m.) I present Kerry with a 12-pack of beer for the after party as she checks us in. We cross the street and decide which crack in the sidewalk should be the start line, start our watches together and head off to follow the purple chalk marks through DC.

We go down 29th Street and Woodland Drive where we pick up the Normanstone Trail to Rock Creek trail. We follow a variety of small, connected trails behind Dumbarton Oaks, Whitehaven Street, through Glover Archibald Park to the Battery Kemble Trail.  These are all new trails to me and it is remarkable that there are so many hidden trails in the heart of the city.

Starting out: me, Gayatri, Mark, Maureen and Delia (l. to r.)
While the course is well marked and we have both a map and turn-by-turn directions the five of us have to stop occasionally to determine the correct way.

In 1:16 we reach the first aid station (mile 4.7).  The two volunteers jump out of the car where they were sitting and tell us that we are the first runners to arrive - not surprising given our hour headstart on the rest of the field.  We are offered the first chance to score bonus minutes to deduct from out time - eat dried shrimp.  I pass up the shrimp but do eat some of the other 'delicacies' - Spam, cajun-flavored sardines and anchovies.

Blue heron fishing in the canal in Georgetown
We continue down Battery Kemble Trail and cross MacArthur Blvd.  Soon the trail turns into a scramble over some rocks alongside a stream that leads us into a tunnel under Canal Road and brings us to the C&O Towpath.  We turn left toward Georgetown with Gayatri and I in the lead.  A deer bounds out of the nearly dry canal and crosses the towpath before paralleling our course on the adjacent Capital Crescent Trail, then finally dashing into the woods leading to the Potomac.  Nearly in Georgetown we spot a Great Blue Heron fishing in the canal.  We take a footbridge over the canal to Key Bridge to cross into Virginia. Gusts of wind buffet us.

Welcome to the PHT
Mark jumps rope at AS #2 for 3 bonus minutes
The Potomac Heritage Trail actually begins across from Roosevelt Island near Key Bridge.  The second aid station (mile 8.6) is located there and bonus time is awarded to anyone who jumps rope, or at least attempts to, as the jump rope is a child's jump rope making it more difficult for taller persons. We are there in about 2:11 from our start

After we all take turns we head upstream.  Under Key Bridge I spot a geocache. Unfortunately none of us have anything to leave and we didn't use GPS to find it so we go on.

Trekking along the PHT near Spout Run
After being overtaken and passed by the actual lead runners, stopping to take pictures and um, for other purposes, I decide to take off from my colleagues.

Quarrying machinery remnants by the Potomac
I jog off along the trail. It is only about four miles to the third aid station at Chain Bridge (mile 12.5) but the trail is surprisingly rocky and the going is slow. I pass what appear to be the remains of rusted steam boilers and gears.  A walker on the trail tells me that they were used in the 19th century for quarrying operations.

At Gulf Branch I'm a bit confused as to which way the trail goes, but a couple of runners come along and we all realize that we need to climb up a precipitous 50-foot rock face.  There are some handrails to assist the climb but a vertical one has pulled out of its moorings and is wedged in the rocks.  The next one is mostly horizontal and I keep a firm grip as the path is narrow and there is a steep drop-off to rocks and the run on the left.  It takes about 1:19 to go the four miles between AS2 and AS3.

The trail improves after leaving the Chain Bridge aid station as it drifts away from the river.  It is hillier but is mostly dirt, leaving the rocks behind.  I keep alert for the right turn across Pimmit Run and spot it easily enough.  Fortunately there has been no rain in the days before the race and the streams are down allowing the runners to keep their feet dry at all the stream crossings.

The trail passes through Fort Marcy Park, and gets close to the GW Parkway.  Close enough in fact, that one comes within feet of it while passing under the overpass at Chain Bridge Road.  Even with a crosswalk, caution is necessary in crossing the parkway off-ramp on the other side of the overpass.

There's a trail over those rocks - somewhere.
See if you can spot the blue blaze.
The next section of the trail follows a narrow stretch of park between the Parkway on the left and multi-million homes of McLean on the right.  Soon the houses end and the trail starts a descent back down to the river's edge, bringing with it a return to the rocks.

But a turn to the left, away from the river, trades rocks for climbing and i enter the Turkey Run Park area.  A woman runner comes up behind me as we near some buildings. We start looking for either chalk marks or the blue blazes of PHT and only see yellow blazes.  As we start to backtrack several more runners come along.  One is a veteran of the race and assures us that we are headed in the proper direction, and sure enough, we finally see purple chalk. In a few minutes we arrive at the Turkey Run aid station (mile 17: elapsed time, 4:45).

Touching the bridge at the turnaround
From there it is only a couple of miles to the supports of the American Legion Bridge where we stop to pose for pictures touching the bridge (about mile 19?). The feet stay dry crossing Turkey Run in both directions.

Headed Back
I see Mark, Gayatri and Maureen on the way back.  Delia dropped at Chain Bridge. After seeing them I'm concentrating on my footing after crossing the run and don't see the low branch that smacks me on the head. I yelp and a walker ahead asks if I want him to take a look at it.  I've already felt the spot and while there is an already-rising lump there is no blood.

"I know the date and the president," I tell him, "so I don't have a concussion. Today is 11-1-14 and the President is Woodrow Wilson."  He enjoys the joke, and I pass him and go up the switchbacks to the Turkey Run aid station (about mile 20-21?)

"Did you get your bonus on the way out?' one of the volunteers asks. Then she tells me that there is a bonus for break-dancing at the aid station.  I tell her I won't get down on the ground and am told that anything that I call break dancing will earn the bonus.  I flail about and do other maneuvers while someone takes pictures and the volunteers all laugh. "You are one of the best dancers we've had," I'm told - a sorry commentary on the ability of trail runners to bust a move.

Wind-driven ripples on the Potomac
Backtracking toward Chain Bridge I allow my mind to wander.  The trail runs so close to the Parkway at one point that there is a low stone wall that separates the trail from the roadway.  A moment's inattention and I fall.  It is just dirt and no harm is done, but I realize that I came within inches of hitting my head on the wall when I went down.

Entering the area of Fort Marcy Park I'm startled by the largest buck I've ever seen in the DMV that bursts from the woods on my right and bounds up the ridge on the left.  Shortly he is joined by a doe and a fawn.

Picking up the trail on the other side of the parking lot at the Park I slam on the brakes. A doe is standing in the trail looking at me.  Normally deer run off but she does not look like she is interested in going anywhere and isn't the least bit afraid. Then I see the fawn to the right. Rather than retreating I do what any modern person would do - I pull out my device to try to get a picture.  That seems to accomplish my goal and she and the fawn trot off.

Arriving at the Chain Bridge aid station (mile 24.5; elapsed time 7:02) I chat with the volunteers and enjoy a glass of red wine (not as good as that served at Marathon du Medoc, but appreciated anyway).  I accept the final bonus challenge of the day - carry a raw egg to the finish.  Since I had picked up a baggie with white capsules off the trail earlier in the day I figured the risk was low in case of an accident.  I swallowed one of the capsules on the assumption that it was a Succeed or other form of electrolyte, put the rest in my pill container, put the egg in the baggie and placed the baggie in one of the front pockets of my hydration pack. (Note: this was not the first time I picked up and consumed unidentified capsules during a race.  See my report on the 2013 TNF50K.)

Climb over the fence and go thru the tunnel
near Fletcher's Boathouse
The return to Woodley Park is mostly uneventful.  I cross Chain Bridge to the C&O Canal towpath, go down to Fletcher's Boathouse and through the tunnel we used outbound and mostly retrace the outbound route, although it is a bit shorter without the short segment to where the first aid station was.

I'm a bit uncertain as to the location of the turn-off for the Normanstone Trail, but after a bit of back and forth and spotting a couple of runners headed in the right direction I figure it out.  It's almost entirely uphill to the finish and so I end the day with a nice walk.

I sign in at Kerry's house with a time of 8:40 and present her with the unbroken egg.  That's worth a 25 minute bonus, the beer earns a 10 minute bonus, and jumping rope is worth 3 minutes.  But the big surprise is that I get 15 minutes for my dance routine, second only to Ed's 20 minute award.  All the other dancers only get 3 minutes.  So my net time is 7:47. And that is worth what everyone else's performance is worth - a fabulous party with two kinds of chili, pasta, vegetables, salad, beer and soft drinks and plenty of desserts (cake and cookie contributors got a 15 minute bonus).  Pretty dang good for a run with no entry fee, no bib, no timing, no spectators, no shirt and no swag, but great volunteers, a nice and sometimes challenging course and a wonderful post-party.

Mark, Gayatri and Maureen finish together in 9:54. Gayatri got 3 jump rope points, Mark got 5 dried shrimp and 3 jumprope points and Maureen got 3 break-dance points.  One runner dropped and called a taxi to return to party central the finish At Kerry's. Two runners became the first PHT runners to ever use Uber upon dropping. And four runners were assessed a 10 minute penalty for following the blue blazes of the PHT all the way to the American Legion bridge, missing the yellow trail to the Turkey Run Aid station. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon - October 26, 2014

Great Things Start Small
Emaad's throw-away remark gets me thinking.  Running on a Friday a week or two before the 39th Marine Corps Marathon he tells me that I'm in great shape and could run a PR at MCM.  Sprinkling a bit of water on parched ground can encourage a wind-blown seed to attempt to bloom and that is what his remark does.  I can't shake the idea that maybe I am in good enough shape to try for a PR.  Running 3:15 at the DC Road Runners 20-Miler three weeks before MCM adds more nutrients for the PR seedling. And a near perfect weather forecast further aids the sprout. Yes, perhaps I could be "A mighty oak /From the acorn grew."

I set a goal of 4:20. That's three minutes under my 4:23 PR which I set two years ago at MCM.  Realistic at an overall pace of 9:58/mile. Based on the 20-Miler, my plan is to get to the 20-mile mark in 3:15-3:18, a pace of about 9:45/mile, then hold on loosely but don't let go for the final 10K at about a 10:00/mile pace.  Two days before MCM I print out a 4:20 pace band.

To the Start with Cinco Amigos
Emaad, Jennifer and Barry load up on donuts pre-race
For the fourth year, Emaad, Rebecca, Jennifer, Barry and I join forces for MCM.  An early dinner at Cuban Corner Saturday night fuels the team and we gather at 0545 at my house for the drive to the MCRRC hospitality suite at the Holiday Inn Key Bridge.  I supply coffee, Rebecca brings doughnuts and Jennifer drives and despite a bit of a detour we get there in plenty of time.

We prep in the ballroom and head out for the walk to the start.  I'm clearly revved up and walk ahead of the amigos.  Walking along, I chat with a woman whose running her first marathon.  Her father is retired military and, she says, "He's proud that I'm running Marine Corps."

Parachutist descends with American flag 
After cheering the wheel chair racers and the participants being pushed by family or friends who start at 7:40 I wait for the amigos to catch up, but I don't see them.  Reluctantly I get in the road for the start of the race.  Paragliders descend, one with a large American flag and lands close to where I'm standing.  A pair of Marine V-22 Ospreys, their rotors in helicopter alignment, flies over.  Promptly at 7:55 the howitzer sounds for the start of the race.

As the other runners head forward, I stand in the median dividing the six lanes full of runners.  I'm letting the faster runners go before I step in with folks more in alignment with my pace.

The Ospreys roar back overhead from the other direction, their rotors now vertical in propeller orientation.  And then I spot the other amigos.  We form up and head to start.  I discard my trash bag warm up, cross the starting mat and we are off.

Barry, slower than the rest drops back to his pace.  The other four of us go off together,  Within a few minutes Rebecca and I seem to have lost Emaad and Jennifer.

Execute the Plan
Rebecca, who is cold-averse, is wearing three layers while I'm wearing my short-sleeved U.S. Marine Corps/Capitol Hill Running Club shirt.  As usual, Rebecca warms up quickly and before we have gone a mile she has tossed away her church rummage sale hoodie.  In another mile she sheds her long sleeved shirt, tying it around her waist.  A bit later she stashes away her arm warmers and is down to her short sleeves.

Up the hill into Rosslyn we go, missing the one mile marker.  Out Lee Highway and more uphill.  An emergency services cart works it way in the opposite direction, carrying someone on a stretcher. Passed mile 2 forty seconds behind 4:20 pace we that's to be expected due to the hill.  We head down Lorcom Lane, picking up speed and time on the downhill.

 At mile four we are seconds ahead of the 4:20 pace. Rebecca walks to eat a gel and I join other runners, all male, facing the rocks and bushes by the side of the GW Parkway. But both of us are quick about our respective missions and we are soon running up the parkway ramp and turning left across Key Bridge.

We have no sooner made it onto M Street and I feel someone grope my behind.  Emaad has caught up with us!  We enquire about Jennifer but he says he lost her.  And soon we lose him at the M Street water stop.  Rebecca thinks he has gotten ahead of us; I think he is behind us.  No matter, we go on.

Down Wisconsin Avenue we miss the mile 5 marker but are running a comfortable 9:40ish pace up and back on Rock Creek Parkway.  We see Barry after we make the turnaround and he is still headed toward it, but there is no sign of Emaad or Jennifer.

The plan is working well. At mile 9 we are about 1:30 ahead of 4:20 pace, suggesting that we'll get to mile 20 right around 3:15. Pretty good plan execution.

The Blue Mile
Near the Kennedy Center we come upon Caroline, prolific ultrarunner.  She was injured earlier in the year but she's here for her 15th MCM.  We chat a bit and then go on.

Just past the Kennedy Center there is a runner carrying an American flag of a flagpole.  I ask him if I can have the honor and he graciously hands it to me.  We run and chat for a bit and then I return it to him and he pulls away.

Down the west side of Hains Point Rebecca and I go.  Good pace but easy enough that we chat amiably about everything that runners chat about.  Just before mile 12 we both duck into the restrooms.  I tell her I'll stick to the left side of the road so she can find me.

The Blue Mile starts shortly afterward.  Every ten yards or so there is a poster with the name and picture and of a fallen service member. It is a somber reminder of the cost of the past twelve years.  Also are the many runners either wearing blue or with memorials for deceased comrades and family members on the backs of their shirts.

DC fire boat salute in Washington Channel
I reach the halfway point in 2:08 and mile 14 in 2:16.  The plan is working well.  I'm a couple of minutes ahead of 4:20 pace and feeling good.  I take a brief detour to the side to get a picture of the DC fire boat shooting streams of water high into the cloudless blue sky.

The crowds along Independence Avenue are large and enthusiastic. The course is out one side and back the other to head toward the Mall. At mile 17 my pace drops to 10:05, not part of the plan, but not too slow.  I try to shrug it off as an anomaly.

Daughter Hilary has promised to be near the National Museum of Natural History with candy.  I scan the crowd for her but we have got our signals crossed and I'm looking on the right side and she is on the left side so I miss her.  Later Jennifer will tell me she saw her.  Hilary gives out six bags of candy to hungry runners. I spot An and tell him that Rebecca is likely a minute or two behind me.  Hash House Harriers are handing out beer and I get a cup.  It is not a bad substitute for missing the candy.

The Going Gets Tough
Coming toward mile 18 at the end of the Mall approaching the foot of Capitol Hill I realize that the slower mile 17 is not a fluke.  I'm getting tired too soon to execute the remainder of the plan.  My pace starts to drop but I'm going to try to hold on.  Sometimes there is just a lull before one gets a second wind.  That is what I need to find.  Get through the dark to the light.  I grimly recalled that earlier in the day I had quoted von Moltke the Elder to Rebecca, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy."  My plan had met the enemy.

Near the Smithsonian Castle I spot Ray, an older MCM regular who always runs with a flag.  Like I did last year I ask him if I can carry his flag a bit.  He agrees but warns me that he isn't moving much faster than a walk.  Not a problem for me the way I'm feeling.  I carry it a bit and return it to him.

I get to mile 20 in 3:17, remarkably right on the 4:20 finishing pace and in the plan's 3:15-3:18 window for 20 miles.  But the difference is that I'm spent.  I manage to get across the 14th Street bridge to mile 21 in 10:38, a pace, that if I can maintain it for the remaining 5.2 miles will touch a 4:23 PR.

But I'm spent. The miles in Crystal City are ugly and involve significant walking - 11:36, 12:01 11:38.  I develop a thousand yard stare and plod ahead.  More beer from another group of hashers does not revive me.

Approaching the 40K mat I spot someone familiar and catch Rebecca.  Actually, I don't think I as much caught her as I spotted her passing me.  We run together for a very short while and then I start yelling at her to go on.  She does.

I reach mile 25 in 4:15.  Now I start calculating whether I have a chance to finish under 4:30.  Maybe. But it is a long gentle incline the first half of the distance and running is difficult.  So I walk and worry and plan to run the downhill to mile 26 so that I have a chance to get up the last hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial.

I get to mile 26 in 4:26:39.  I have 3:21 left to run uphill the last two tenths of a mile.  But I cannot run the first part.  Tired as I am I simply cannot run. But the road is less steep following the right turn to the finish and now I run.  I finish in 4:29:09.  I lean against a barricade after finishing and spot Rebecca who was waiting for me.

Leaving the finish area we spy Jennifer who crossed the line in 4:26.  She had passed Rebecca and me somewhere in the first three miles and stayed ahead of us.  Emaad catches up to us on the walk back to the Holiday Inn.  He finished in 4:32. Unbeknowst to any of us at the time he had leapfrogged Rebecca and I a couple of times during the day. And fortunately for him I didn't notice when I passed him as I had threatened to grope him with two hands to repay his grab in Georgetown.  Barry finished in 4:57, still good enough for the top half of his age group.

The Results
While I didn't run a PR I did run my third fastest MCM (out of nine) and my fourth consecutive under 4:30. In my age group I was a respectable 82 of 366 and 4816 of 11,100 male finishers.

MCM Swag: shirt, finisher's medal, patch, bib
and purchased beer glass

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Black Hills 100K - June 28, 2014

"No DNF without a DOA."
- My email signature leading up to Black Hills 100K

Determined to Finish
Happy for a rain-free start
Jennifer looking happy at the start
Two years ago I dropped out of the Black Hills 100K without reaching the halfway point. It was only the second race I've DNF'd.  The first, the JFK 50 miler in 2006, was due to a lingering ITB injury that finished me about mile 28.  I subsequently returned to JFK to finish three times.  I was equally determined to return to BH and to finish.

While the 100K officially has a 20 hour cutoff, there are no intermediate cutoffs and so long as you finish ahead of the 100 miles and their 32 hour cutoff, the race officials allow you to go on.  My plan was to take as long as necessary and take rests at aid stations for whatever time was needed to recover my strength, even if it meant a two hour nap.  I was buoyed in this strategy with advice from legendary 100-miler Tom Green (the first person to ever complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 1986 and now trying again 28 years later) who told me his trick for getting through the night was taking a 90 minute nap.

I've enlisted friend Jennifer to run with me.  She is the toughest runner I know and I'm confident that she can get me to the finish in case I start to fall apart.  She completed the 100K two years ago when I dropped out.

What Year Will It Be?
The Black Hills in late June can offer radically different conditions from year to year.  On volunteer at packet pick-up sums it up nicely by noting that rather than referring to each race by the numeric year, they can be identified by conditions: 2011 was the Year of the Storms (severe thunderstorms at night had runners sheltering for up to an hour at aid stations and even in the culvert under I-90 - until the rising water in Alkali Creek forced them to go on); 2012 was the Year of the Heat (temperatures in the mid-90s left the course bone dry did me and many others in), and 2013 was the Perfect Year (dry and temps in the 70s).

2014 was shaping up to the Year of the Mud.  Frequent rains in the weeks prior to the race had greened up the Hills, but had also raised the creeks and left significant portions of the trail covered in mud.

We arrived in the Black Hills on Wednesday for the Saturday race and every afternoon or evening was marked with thunderstorms, some with hail or heavy rain, all assuring that the mud would be there to greet us at 6 a.m. on Saturday.

Jennifer descending Town Hill around mile 4 or so
Bear Butte in the distance north of Sturgis.
Up at 4:30 a.m. or so to have some breakfast and drive the 35 minutes to the start in Sturgis we are greeted outside with cool temperatures and a steady rain.  It rains all the way to the start at Woodle Field.  We have plastic trash bags with us to use as ad hoc rain gear but as park the rain begins to let up.  By ten minutes to 6:00 it has ended; a good omen for the day.

The race starts with 62 100-milers, 49 50-milers and only 24 100K runners.  We all know not everyone will finish.  But I'm determined that I won't be one of the casualties this year. No DNF without a DOA.

At the start we run into Blair.  Two years ago he saw Jennifer at the Bulldog Aid Station with about ten miles to go and stuck with her to the finish.  We both thank him for his willingness to help her when she arrived at the aid station, in her words, "a bawling wreck." He's back for his third BH100K.

The threat of rain and cool weather has both me and Jennifer starting with an extra layer but with the rain ended and the warm up from starting to run we both shed them early.

Mushroom by the side of the Centennial Trail.
As always a trail run is an opportunity to get to chat with new folks. Talking with Erin I discover she is from the Florida Keys.  I observe that it must be hard to train for the climbs running on the flat at sea level.  She gently disagrees and says that running at 4 a.m. in the morning with temperatures in the 80s and humidity in the 90 percent range is just as stressful as running hills.  She will prove her point by finishing the 100 miler in just under 31 hours and come in first in her age group.

The mud makes for tough going. Uphill the slick mud causes back sliding and downhill it makes for treacherous going.  On the steep downhill approaching Elk Creek a runner goes past us saying that he has invented a new sport: "mud skiing" as he slaloms down the slope.The mud builds up on the shoes and then picks up long pine needles which slap against the opposite leg with each step.

Obsessing with time I glance at my watch and then my pace card as we approach aid stations.  Jennifer has cautioned me not to tell her our progress, as two years ago I was chirping about how well we were doing before I crashed and burned after about 27 miles.  But I'm secretly happy that we are well under the fastest column on the card, a modest 19 hour finishing pace.  Two years ago the card had one or two faster columns, but since the goal this year is to finish and I know the trail, I've replaced them with more modest, and maybe more realistic 21- and 22-hour columns.

Elk Creek in 2012
The first of the Elk Creek crossings
(photo by Randy Ericksen)
At the Elk Creek aid station we go to our drop bags and I get rid of the extra shirt and replace my handheld water bottle with my Nathan backpack.

Leaving the aid station we go gently downhill and then steeper downhill to begin the five crossings of Elk Creek.  Unlike the bone dry crossings of 2012, Elk Creek is swiftly flowing and there are ropes for assistance at each crossing.  Jennifer revels in the cool swift water which scours the mud from our legs and shoes.  I worry more about losing my grip on the rope and getting swept away.

Jennifer crossing the fourth of the Elk Creek crossings
The final crossing leaves us in a bit of a puzzle. We cross the creek but the other side is nothing but a spit of land with water on two sides and a tangle of underbrush with no sign of the trail.  Then we see a 50-mile runner wading up the side channel of the creek headed in-bound and we see that there are more ropes that way.  Splashing down the knee deep but gently flowing channel brings us to the continuation of the trail.

The climb out of Elk Creek Canyon is long but rewarded with with nice views.  In a bit we come to the crooked tree for which the next aid station is named for, although the tree is about two miles from the aid station.  We pause for photos by the tree and go on.

Elk Creek Canyon
After the Crooked Tree aid station (at mile 22.5) we go up (almost every exit from an aid station in the Black Hills involves a climb) and start to see more and more 50-mile runners on the way back.  There is a simple reason for that - the turn-around sign for the 50- mile runners is 2.5 miles past the aid station.  Past the sign there will be fewer runners to be seen, as now the 50 milers are gone.

To the Turnaround
This is the stretch where things went bad for me two years ago.  But this year the weather is near perfect, with mostly cloudy skies to block the sun and lower temperatures.  And I'm engaged in a conscious effort to manage hydration and nutrition, with a Succeed and a gel every hour.

Crooked tree
It seems to be working well.  I feel  well as we run down the long descent and switchbacks to the Dalton Lake aid station (mile 29.2).  We take our time there, and I drop my Nathan and pick up a handheld water bottle for the 3.8 mile round trip to the turn around.

The climb out to the turnaround starts with an 800 foot ascent over the course of about a half mile.  This is where I called it off two years ago and the image of the log that I sat on when I told Jennifer that I could not go on has been burned into me memory since that day.

Two years ago I sat on this log and quit.
Not this year.
I'm on the lookout for it and when I see it I stop and take its picture.  No DNF without a DOA.

Finally the trail joins a multi-use trail often used by ATV'ers.  We don't see any either on our way to the turnaround sign or on the way back.

But we do see Blair who is already headed back and exchange greetings with him.  We figure he is about 40 minutes ahead of us.  After we reach the sign we turn around. I glance at my watch: 9:27 to get halfway.  We are headed back, and while there will climbs, we have the benefit of a net descent of 1700 feet from the turnaround to the finish.

After ten minutes we cross paths with another 100K runner on his way to the sign.  We don't see any more so we figure he is the last 100K runner.  Jennifer figures that we saw maybe 12-15 on the way back earlier.  With the 100 milers still headed outbound, the 50 milers turned around hours ago and the rest of the 100K runners ahead of us, it means that we will be pretty much assured of running alone on the way back.
The back of the 100K turn-around sign

Back at Dalton Lake aid station (now mile 33) we change socks, change shirts, switch back to the Nathan, restock on gels and Succeeds and continue our return journey.  We are in no hurry to rush out of the aid station and Jennifer chats with the aid station worker while I contemplate what to wear and what to bring.  It seems like everyone who if from South Dakota knows one another or has a friend in common and Jennifer and the aid station worker are no exceptions.

Role Reversal
It's a long climb back up the switchbacks headed north. As we have done all day we walk the uphills and run the flats and downhills, or at least those downhills that are too steep or muddy.  As the day has gone on the mud has gotten better, although there are still plenty of places with ample mud.

Jennifer tends to have me take the lead on the single track trails. She claims it is because she isn't good at pace setting but I suspect it has more to do with making sure that she doesn't inadvertently over-extend me.  After the climb the trail levels out a bit, I glance back to chat with her only to see that she is sobbing.

She tells me that she has started to have the symptoms that signal the onset of paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT), a condition that sometimes afflicts her.  It can lead to the heart going into tachycardia, racing at up to 250 beats a minute.  Years ago she had a severe episode of PSVT which required a cardioversion to bring it under control.

I immediately deeply regret having suggested - no, I asked her - to accompany me on this 100K.  I'm responsible for her being here because I wanted her to accompany and assist me on my attempt to run this race.  Now we are in the middle of the Centennial Trail, miles from anywhere, with no cell reception and her heart is sending her warning signs.  Because I wanted her to be here for me.

Wild Lilies.
Afterwards, when I tell her what I was thinking, she tells me that she "never looked at it like 'geez, I gotta go do this for Ken.'  It's a beautiful run."

I know that she will never quit - she has a bit of the dog who will run until it drops dead in her - so I don't even suggest that she drop out at the next aid station.

There are several maneuvers that she can do to bring PSVT under control if she has an incident.  More importantly since the symptoms she has felt have only first occurred more than 11 hours into the race while we have been running, we agree that if we dial back the stress of running we reduce the risk of symptoms.  She promises to let me know if she experiences more symptoms.

So we being walking much more.  We run briefly on a flat section to test things out.  She admits to a twinge. We drop the running.

We get to Crooked Tree aid station about 13 hours into the race, about 7 p.m.  I've been dreading having to recross Elk Creek again, and now both of us are thinking, although neither of us say it then, that we may have to do them in the dark with only our headlamps.

But before we get to Elk Creek, while we are still on the ridge leading to the descent to the canyon, the wind begins to pick up and we hear and see it in the pines, and the sky darkens.  Some blue sky is just to the west.  We are are the trailing edge of the storm cell.

We debate the direction of the storm: is it to the west and going to pass by without afflicting us, or is it going to the northwest and going to follow us?  A look at the clouds overhead provides no clue: they seem to be slowly boiling upward.

A few rain drops fall. Behind us (to the south) there is some lightning and a rumble of thunder.

Looking east with the sun behind us late in the day
We're on a mostly treed ridge but in some places it opens up with only a stray tree or two. What to do?  We dash across the open areas.  Jennifer get a twinge from her chest. But we cleared the area and the storm moves away without dropping rain or worse on us.

We descend into Elk Canyon and cross the creek with ample, if fading light much to the relief of both of us.  Another mile or so brings us to the Elk Creek aid station (mile 45.2) and our other drop bags.  I switch my wet shoes and socks for dry ones and as the aid station workers remind us that the night may be cool (it's about 8:30 p.m.; we have been at it for 14 and a half hours) I put a long sleeved shirt under my short sleeved one and done a pair of running gloves.  The gloves and short sleeve shirt are both neon yellow, making me easy to see.

Soon the light has faded and we turn on our lights.  It is pitch dark as the new moon was the night before. We are too far from Sturgis for any light pollution and there are no houses, or roads for car or street lights. It is profoundly dark and quiet.

Except for the round orange light on the ground on the trail through a grassy area ten feet ahead.  We come to a stop.  Finally a bird rises up, give a bit of a call and flies off.  Later in the woods we will see a green light, the reflection from the eye of a deer, a ghostly grey shade, moving silently parallel to the trail.

Soon afterward Jennifer says there is a light approaching from behind.  In fact, it is the two lights attached to forehead and belt of Ryan Burch, on his way to winning the 100 mile race. When he passes us he has gone about 86 miles to our 48.   He gives us a cheery, "Good job," and bounds onward as if he is on a short jaunt in the woods.

Outbound by the crooked tree.
St. Christopher of the Trails
Coming into the Bulldog Aid Station at mile 51.9 I turn out my light and give a cheery "Dr. Livingstone, I presume," to the man sitting in one of the chairs who I take to be a volunteer logging runners in. As I get closer I recognize that it is Blair, who by my figuring now should be an hour ahead of us.

I am concerned that he may not be feeling well or is injured so I ask. "I'm fine," he replies, "I'm helping Nina," he says, motioning to a runner sitting next to him.  By her bib I see she is running the 50 mile race. She had considered dropping out at an earlier aid station but when told that a truck was on its way to pick up dropped runners she went and hid so she could continue.  Blair volunteered to get her to the finish.

As we rest at the aid station another 100-miler, accompanied with a pacer comes in.  He doesn't seem to be in as good shape as Ryan, but his pacer gets him what he needs and off they go.

The four of us start out of the aid station together, but it is uphill as almost every exit from BH aid stations are, and as we are taking frequent breaks on the uphills, they soon disappear into the darkness.  I frequently ask Jennifer how she is doing and she responds positively. 

But as we head down the switchbacks on the other side of Bulldog we can see their headlamps ahead of us.  Down the hill, and across the field to the Alkali Creek culvert under I-90 we can see their lights but we never catch them.  On the other side of the culvert, where we did our best to keep our feet dry - not entirely successfully - I look at Jennifer and here eyes are hooded and half closed.  She admits to being tired. When we get to the Alkali Creek Aid Station (mile 56.5) Blair and Nina are there already sitting.

Jennifer drops to the ground and says she needs a ten to 15 minute rest.  An aid station worker covers her with a blanket.  I sit in a chair with a blanket.  In about 12 minutes Jennifer stirs awake.  An aid station worker asks if she would like to rest inside the camper and she accepts the offer, laying down on a bunk inside.

Blair asks if they should wait for Jennifer.  I tell him that I'm going to stay with her and there is no reason that they should delay.  As they depart I yell after Blair, "You are the St. Christopher of the Trails, always there to help those in need on their travels."  He gives a wave and they are gone.

Jennifer surprises me by being out of the camper in about five minutes. She's ready to go on and remarkably refreshed.  We head out (it's now about 1:45 a.m or 19:45 into the race) and up the 400 foot climb up Town Hill.  We walk up for 30 seconds and I stop.  We stand for a bit and repeat the process to the top of the hill.  There isn't going to be an PSVT event if we can avoid it.  And we do.

After descending the far side of the hill we stop and look above us.  The clouds have cleared and the moonless sky is full of stars from one side of the horizon to the other.  The Milky Way is clear.  It is a beautiful sight.  You need not run through the night to see the universe overhead, but if you do, it is a nice benefit.

This is the Black Hills so there are still a couple of low hills to go up and down.  As we cross between them I tell Jennifer to look to her right and tell me what she sees.  She looks and spits out an expletive.  The eastern sky is starting to lighten.

The third place finisher in the 100 miler, Jeremy Bradford, passes us with a couple of miles to go.  He is chatty and in good spirits.

Finally we are done with the hills and now all we have to do is go through the tunnel under the road to the paved path for the final mile to Woodle Field and the finish.  Only we can't find the tunnel that we ran through so many hours before.  We spot a drainage culvert under the road but even though we are both brain-tired we realize that cannot be it.  Finally we spot the flagging leading to it, get across and walk to the track.  We're beat but we still manage to run the last few yards and finish in 22:19.

No DNF. No DOA.  We finished.  Success.

I finish dead last among men 12 of 12 and 1 of 2 in my age group, behind Blair.  Jennifer is 3 of 3 among females and wins her age group.  For being the third place female she wins a nice hand painted work of Indian art.

Finisher results once again show why Black Hills is a tough race at any distance.  Twenty-nine people signed up for the 100K race; 24 started.  Twenty-three passed through the Elk Creek timing station outbound about mile 16.5. Only two of them were behind us.  By the time we returned to the timing station inbound about mile 45.7, only 16 runners remained and we were DFL (dead last).  One more runner dropped between Elk Creek and the finish, leaving only 15 finishers out of 24 starters, a completion rate of 63 percent. We were about 19 minutes behind Blair, but he was slowed down because of his charitable impulse to get Nina to the finish. He was first in my age group, deservedly so. And while Nina was DFL in the 50 mile, more than two hours behind the finisher immediately ahead of her, she was still third in her age group. Persistence has its rewards.

Completion rates were 52 percent for the 100 mile race (32 of 62) and 84 percent for the 50 mile race (84 percent).

The 35 minute drive back to our cabin is a nightmare.  I can barely stay awake.  Jennifer is talking at me non-stop to keep me focused.  The radio is on.  The window is open.  Nothing works well.  I drive slowly. I'm nodding off.  I stop at a crosswalk even though there is no one in it. Jennifer is hallucinating seeing people standing in the roadside ditches.  Maybe that helps me be careful not to drive off the road. Thankfully there are no real persons or cars on the road at 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

When Jennifer gets home she goes to the cardiologist.  He doesn't seem to think that she was in danger.

Swag: shirt, bib, cozy, coffee, sticker,
museum discount coupon, finisher mug and AG award

Age Group Award