"Your lucky day," Don emails, "Doc says 'no running' for a few weeks. So I'm offering you my 25K bib, no charge. The RD says: no transfer fee."
The day before I had indicated to Don that I might be interested in running the Maryland Heat Race with him. Normally I would be more interested in running 50K than half the distance, but a either run on a hot and humid August day did not sound appealing. On the other hand the 50K was $60 compared to $50, so you got twice the distance for only 20 percent more.
Combined with a long range forecast indicating that the weather would not be awful, a free entry was too much to refuse and I quickly accepted Don's offer.
Paying It Forward, or Backward, or Something
Race director Nick arranges for the transfer of Don's entry to me and as a small token of appreciation I offer to donate some truly fabulous gifts for him to give away. The race does not have prizes but at the post-race picnic he gives away various items by pulling runners bib numbers from a hat. After I give him a list of what I am proposing to bring he emails, "I'm not sure what the second one is, or how much people will want these items, but who knows. . . . . Maybe I can convince you to announce what they are, since I won’t remember :-)"
The evening before the race brings a flurry of emails - and a possible motive for Don offering me his entry. Carol starts it off by asking Don if he is registered for the race. In July he had mentioned to her what a good race it was and that he intended to enter. She promptly did enter - it was to be her first trail race. When Don got injured volunteering at a race July 18 he did not inform her that he was sidelined, and now, the day before the race, she found that she was going to be on her own.
Don replies apologetically but mentions that he transferred his "bib to another friend (Ken Swab) who I think you've met and he runs your pace (maybe a hair slower) and adds me to the email chain. She replies to both of us, "I was looking forward to running with you but will look for Ken. . . ."
I'm always willing to run with someone so we exchange pictures and mobile numbers so that we can meet up at the start.
A Day in the Woods
Since Don had indicated that I was "a hair slower" I ask her about her speed. "I run 8:30 pace," she replies. That makes me much more than a hair slower, I think, but she is a bit concerned about her first trail run so she indicates that she is likely to stay with me, at least for the first part of the race.
We toss a couple of horseshoes in the pit next to the pavilion while waiting for the race to begin. The 50K started at 7 a.m. and at 9 a.m. race director Nick gives a brief description of the course and the aid stations positioned every four miles. Instead of saying "Go!" he leads us on a loop around a ball field then down a short road over the river to where a trail begins. It takes some exertion to keep up with Carol.
We run on a dirt trail paralleling the river for a bit, then through a short tunnel under a railroad line and head up a hill away from the river. Carol is strong on the uphill and pulls away from me as I walk the single track. At the top we hang a right at a four way intersection under the guidance of a course marshal and I make up time on the downhill, finally catching up to Carol.
|Nice runnable section just past the power lines.|
A bit of rolling course takes us out to a trail under a powerline cut and we head uphill with Carol in the lead. We briefly go back into the woods and pop out at a road where we don't see flagging for where to go. Three guys sitting on the tailgate of a pickup point us in the right direction, and we debate whether they are volunteers, or just three guys sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck willing to help out confused runners.
|Carol reloads at he first aid station.|
We quickly come to the first aid station on the edge of a field. A glance at my watch indicates that it has been 56 minutes from the start. My unofficial plan is to run each four mile stretch between aid stations in an hour, so we are on schedule, assuming the aid stations are four mile apart.
The trail heads downhill, first gently and then more steeply. Carol and I tread carefully as more 50K runners bound past. We navigate one of the several stream crossings, but like all of them they are low enough and there are adequate stones to get across dry-foot if one wishes. We do, but other runners simply splash across.
|Headed up after the really steep part.|
Carol takes off and I plod on behind. A bit of rolling up and down and as I turn a corner I see someone bent over a runner on the ground. It's Carol, and apart from a bump on her leg she isn't injured. I tell her that it is now a trail race.
We pass a spot where a couple of folks are sitting by ropes that go over the side. I move close to the edge and quickly retreat having no interest in the rock face that seems to descend a deadly distance.
|The Patapsco River from the Grist Mill Trail.|
|Aid Station 2, with Don (back to camera, r.) snapping pics and Carol to his left.|
|Carol and I clown around at AS 2.|
(Photo Courtesy of Don Libes)
After stopping to exchange photo opportunities with Don I grab a handful of chips and M&Ms and head uphill on the trail. Carol soon overtakes me and we go on together, first downhill, then rolling along a ridgeline above the river. We turn away from the river and run past a couple of collapsed buildings in the woods.
|A fixer-upper in the woods.|
|Aid Station 3.|
I'm in and out of the aid station quickly. Carol lingers a bit more but quickly catches up. We both are felling good and move along smartly. There is a wider stream crossing than some of the others we have managed and I decide that getting my feet wet isn't a problem so I deliberately avoid trying to skip from rock to rock. Carol does likewise and declares the water "refreshing". I concur.
My pace seems to have picked up a bit and I gradually pull away from her. At various points I slow down and look behind. At first I can see her with another runner, and then, while I can see her as the course winds around and up and down I can hear her talking with another runner. I have a slight pang of conscience of leaving her behind but rationalize that she is with another runner so it is OK.
And after a little bit more I can't hear her either. I slow down a bit but keep going. With about a mile to go a runner catches up to be and asks if I'm Ken. He then tells me that Carol had fallen and sprained her wrist and that she wanted me to know that she was OK and that I should keep going.
A couple of years ago Rebecca and I had a conversation about what I would do if she fell and was injured. I told her that I'd dial 911 and leave her, since I'm not qualified to render medical advice. This becomes one of Rebecca's favorite stories to tell on me (see the section, "What Goes Up" here).
Now I am confronted with the real, not the theoretical, question. I trot on a bit more, slowly. Another runner comes by and gives me the same information and same advice to "go on" from Carol. I go another ten yards. Then ten more. Then I stop.
Carol comes along. Her shoulder and back are dirty from her fall and three of her fingers are sore from being jammed into the ground. She assures me that I didn't need to wait and I tell her the Rebecca story.
|The Wall from the back side. Carol on top.|
We cross a beach area busy with picnickers and come out onto the field where we began. I ask Carol where her 8:30/mile speed is and she immediately kicks into high gear and roars to and over the finish line 100 yards ahead. Despite the fall and the wall, we finish the last four miles in 1:01.
Fabulous Party, Fabulous Prizes
|BBQ on a bun, beans, kielbasa, mac salad and a pilsner.|
|Just some of the beer selection.|
Around 2 p.m. Nick jumps onto a table and begins to pull numbers from a hat. There are no prizes for winners, but raffle prizes for lucky entrants, where 25 or 50K runners. He gives away several restaurant gift certificates and some running gear and then turns to the items I donated. Rather than draw numbers he simply asks who wants them, one at a time and gives away several of the items I donated: a mini-Nerf football, earbuds, an unopened Baltimore Ravens 1996 Inaugural Season bottle of Coca-Cola Classic, and a pocket sized copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Then he calls on me to describe and present the final items. The first is a red presentation box containing a white Chinese ceramic bowl with lid. The last two are identical, and what I described to the crowd as an American version of the Maltese Falcon differing only in that they are eagles rather than falcons, brass rather than black, metal rather than stone, and American rather than Maltese. Other than those few differences, I assure people, I'm sure that Kasper Gutman and Joel Cairo would be after them.
|Me hawking the American version of the Maltese Falcon.|
Carol finishes in 3:35:50 and I'm seven seconds behind her due to her sprint at the end. We are both first in our age groups. OK, there are not many folks in them (3 females, 3 males total), but we did beat the others. Good for bragging rights anyway. I'm 58 of 83 males, and 88 of 146 overall.
|Swag: four gels, sticker, bib.|