|Emaad on the course|
|He was a DNF.|
|Bacon! Or not.|
|Swag: Two Waredaca beers, |
a glass, shirt and bib.
|Emaad on the course|
|He was a DNF.|
|Bacon! Or not.|
|Swag: Two Waredaca beers, |
a glass, shirt and bib.
Training is Bunk - Or Is it? An Experiment.
It's been a year since I ran in a real race, and I'm anxious to do one. Like everyone, life has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and thousands of races have been canceled or turned into virtual events. In December I ran the Philadelphia Trail Marathon virtually, and while it was nice to get out for a day, it isn't the real thing.
And the lack of goal races means a lack of training focus. A mystereous sore calf reduces my mileage in February to a paltry 28 miles, well below my monthly target of 100 miles.
But "training is bunk" is one of my mottoes. As is the corollary, "if you can go half the distance, you can go the entire distance." So despite not having a single run of more than 7 miles since December 12, I watch the weather and the sign-up list for the Seneca Greenway Trail Marathon/50k, and by March 3 the weather for Saturday looks good and there are still slots available. I sign up.
An 8-mile run the next day passes for a long run. I'm as ready as I'm going to be.
The Difference in a Year
There are pandemic rules for the race. Fewer runners allowed (200 rather than 400), mask wearing before and after the race, masks when passing or being passed, pre-packaged food at the aid stations, no post-race cook-out, no packet pickup morning-of, and most importantly, small group wave starts, with the fastest runners going out first to minimize passing.
While this last rule makes sense, it also unavoidably disadvantages the slower runners, who will have less time to make the cut-offs, particularly the one at the decision point at mile 27.7 to decide whether to go .3 miles to the finish or to go around the lake for an extra three miles and the 50K. (Yes, marathons are normally 26.2 miles, but this is a trail race and the founder of the race always said the distance was "at least a marathon." Runners who don't read the course information closely have been surprised to find that they have reached 26 miles and have two miles, not two-tenths of a mile still to go.)
The smaller field means the I can park closer to the start, since I am starting at 8:21 a.m. nearly an hour after the fast runners stepped out at 7:30. A group of about six of us go off, and the few 8:24 runners are not far behind.
|The fastest I ran all day; and then only for the photo op.|
(Photo by B. Lemieux)
Equipment and Other Malfunctions
A mile into the race I notice a rubbing and burning of one of my toes. I stop and take off my shoe to adjust the sock that I think is the cause of the problem. Once the shoe is off I realize it isn't the sock. Instead, one toenail is rubbing against the adjacent toe. No remedy for that and I have to bear the bit of irritation the rest of the day. When I get home there is blood from where the toenail had scratched the other toe raw. This is partly a result of not running races in months. Trimming toenails is part of race preparation.
A couple of miles later, I grasp the hose of my hydration pack in my mouth and suck. Nothing. I twist the valve left and right and try again. Nothing. I reach behind and feel for leaks. None. I squeeze the bladder and try again. Nothing.
I mention it to a nearby runner. She suggests that maybe I didn't get the end of the hose seated all the way on by the bladder. A good idea, but I don't want to stop on the trail to check. Instead I run the first seven miles to the Route 28 Aid Station without drinking.
When I get there I take the pack off and pull the bladder from the pack. Sure enough, a push on the end of the hose gets it to seat properly with the bladder and fluids flow. Again, rustyness has meant forgetting to check raceday equipment.
"Hi again, lady with the dog paw gaiters," I greet a runner who I passed earlier and who returned the favor at Route 28 while I tended to my hydration equipment. We are at about mile 9.
"Hi, runner with the checkerboard tights," she replies.
It's my opening to tell her that they are actualy harlequin tights, and proceed to tell her the story of how they were made for me by the legendary ultra-runner Eric Clifton (he had a streak of 19 years wining at least one ultramarathon).
Since St. Patrick's Day is coming I complement her on her green shirt. "And don't forget my leprecaun tights," she adds.
With Age Comes
I come to the always-wet Dry Seneca Creek (about mile 12). I know from the weather the past week that it won't require wading across. The stepping stones will be above the water.
I hop onto the large first stone and then onto the similarly sized second stone.
The next stone is only big enough for one foot and is a bit sloped. In year's past, this has never been a problem; I don't even recall that the one stone was much smaller than the others. But now I'm frozen looking at it.
I'm having a crisis of confidence. What if I jump and come up short, or slip and fall? I can't get both feet onto it, so it will have to be a dynamic crosssing - hit it with one foot and keep going to the next slab which is big enough to stand on. The two leading up to it allowed me to go one stone at a time. The ones on the other side will also allow me to go one at a time. But this one will require a dynamic move.
This is what getting old feels like, I think. It is looking at something you have done in the past, and now think you cannot do. Worrying about the consequences of failure.
|Nice dry trail|
So I switch from old mode to cat mode, calculate how to make my leap and which foot to lead with, rock backward and spring forward. Success! I'm on the wide stone on the other side, and the remainder of the crossing of wide stones is easy.
Maybe next year I'll just wade the stream.
"See anything?" I ask the woman looking up into the trees around mile 13.
"Shh," she replies, "Hear that?"
"That's a pine warbler," she replies. "The live in pine trees."
Which makes sense, since we are in a grove of pine trees.
But the small bird escapes our eyes, and I move on.
After crossing Seneca Creek at River Road to head north on the east side of the creek I wonder if the unofficial aid station will be there. Last year, with the seriousness of the pandemic starting to change behavior it had a light-hearted approach, serving Corona beer, and with some volunteers wearing PPE. This year pandemic restrictions suggest that it might not be there.
But it is! And still serving whiskey and beer - but in individual single-serve cups. The Corona has been replaced with 7 Locks Brewing Surrender Dorothy IPA, but there is still hot grilled cheese being served (in individual cups as well). And as a bonus there is a mostly decomposed and partly dismembered deer carcass to provide inspiration.
I get a picture with the remains, and have a second cup of the IPA. Mike urges, "have another."
"I already had another," I reply,
"Have another," he repeats.
|One of us will finish; the other is finished.|
I think about it for a second. "I'm stupid," I say in declining the offer, "but not dumb."
"I don't really like this next section," I tell Glenn and Michele, who are course marshals at Black Rock Mill (about mile 21) where the runners have to get on the six miles of the Seneca Ridge Trail for the return to Riffle Ford Road.
You'll like it better than the runner ahead of you," they cryptically reply.
I spot the runner in a bit and soon overtake him.
"Bad karma," I say as I come up behnd him, "to wear the race shirt before you have finished the race."
As I draw even, I notice that his knees are scraped, and his hands are, too. And there is a patch of dirt on his right shoulder.
"I've fallen about 18 times," he replies, "even into the water."
And then I notice the dried blood on the ridge of his nose.
"Want some ibuprofen?" I offer lamely. It's the best I can do for someone who angered the running gods, and then had to listen to me say the equivalent of "you should have known better."
|These cinco amigos are an annual sighting.|
Know Your Limitations
As Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations."
Coming off the Seneca Ridge section of the course and approaching the Riffle Ford Road aid station (mile 27) I look at my watch to judge whether I will make the decision point-cut off a little less than a mile ahead. It seems unlikely, but to enhance my chances of missing it, and thereby taking the decision out of my hand, I linger a bit at the aid station.
I get the the cut-off at 3:47 p.m., seven minutes over the cut-off. But the volunteer there signals that I can go ahead and do the 50K.
"No," I say, "I'm strictly enforcing the cut-off on myself." I turn left, and go the remaining three-tenths of a mile to the finish.
There are several reasons I make the decision. Mainly, I'm feeling somewhat tired, and given my lack of training, Harry Callahan is whispering in my ear. Last year I got to the decision point in almost the same elapsed time, and went on to do the 50K. But that was with a start at 8 a.m., rather than 8:21, so I was commfortably ahead of the cutoff. Somehow it doesn't quite seem right to go the longer distance and keep the volunteers waiting longer, since I know that there are not many people behind me, and I might have been the last, or close to the last one, who would get to go around the lake. And I don't particularly like the lakeside trail so it would be a bit of an unjoyable slog by myself.
I cross the finish line and offer to return my chip, but chips are not returned during pandemics. It will pass as a finisher's medal on my medal racks.
I finish in 7:31:17, good for 49 of 59 overall, 37/41 males, and 2/2 in my new (70+) age group.
I pick up the pre-packaged post-race food (bottle of water, banana, couple of pieces of prepackaged candy) and walk back to the car for the drive home. It's been a good day in the woods.
Oh, yeah, training IS bunk.
|Dos Amigos (post race).|
|Seneca Creek north of Route 355.|
|The CSX bridge|
|Emaad crosses the feeder stream |
approaching Riffle Ford Road.
|Swag: shirt, medal, bib.|
|Waiting to start|
|Old farm equipment along the trail|
|Dry feet at Dry Seneca Creek|
|Playing the air |
|It was cold and good|
|It was funny then|
|Swag: Bib, pint glass, two bananas, candy|
|Double Agent Barry goes game face early on|
|Beaver Dam Road with runners|
|Approaching the halfway point|
(Photo by Bidong Liu)
|Casualties of corduroy roads|
|Boom box and air guitar for encouragement|
|Finished (and redemption)|
(Photo by Noah Eisenberg)
|The first President congratulates Barry and me on our finish|
|Swag: Quarter zip shirt, bag, medal, bib|
(not pictured: confidence and reassurance)
|Final instructions at the start|
|Looking back to the start/finish|
|Avoid the pointy plants|
|Typical trail (with rocks to trip on)|
|Emaad crossing Cave Creek about mile 12|
|The view on the Spur Cross Trail|
|Emaad circling Elephant Mountain|
|Swag: Shirt, bib (but no finisher's glass)|