Friday, November 16, 2018

Potomac Heritage Trail Fat Ass - November 4, 2018

When 50K Is 31K
Mark gently reminds several of us of this year's Potomac Heritage Trail 50K and its very reasonable entry fee - zero. It is one of the Virginia Happy Trail Runners Club low-key, long distance, fat-ass races. We'll be asked to contribute something for the aid stations, but other than that, it is a matter of show up and run. Since Emaad and I are running the Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K the following week, Emaad suggests that we run part of PHT50 - to the third aid station and back to the finish (about 19.4 miles) - as a training run. I'm easy, so I agree.

Getting ready at the start
The week before the race we get "the bill" for the race.  I'm to bring a pound of pretzels. Emaad is asked to bring potato chips.  I buy the pretzels, and since Halloween has just ended, I also pick up a bag of half-price M&Ms to donate.

We show up at the finish, which is the race director's home in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, walk to the corner of the street to the start line, and chat with some of the other 51 starters while we wait to begin. It is a bit of a reunion as I haven't run a VHTRC race since the 2016 PHT50 (See my 2016 report). VHTRC runners are prototypical ultrarunners - laid back personalities who have the toughness to run 100 miles without any hubris.

One of the volunteers has a check-in sheet, and as 8:00 arrives, he gives some last minute instructions ("follow the purple chalk in DC, then stay on the blue-blazed PHT in Virginia with a purple- chalked detour to the aid station in Turkey Run, then to the American Legion Bridge, turn around, and go back to the start using Chain Bridge"). He also has turn-by-turn directions for those who feel they might need them.  Having run PHT50 in 2016 and 2014 (here's that report) albeit from Woodley Park rather than Mt. Pleasant, I'm pretty confident that I can navigate it.  I take directions anyway.

To Battery Kemble Aid Station (Mile 4.7)
Perhaps to the surprise of early Sunday morning drivers, a small horde of runners trots down the middle of the neighborhood street, then onto a sidewalk and into Rock Creek Park.  The morning is pretty cool, but Emaad drops off an extra shirt at the RD's house as we pass it. (A link to the course map is here. It may be helpful for following this report.)
Dumbarton Oaks - trail to right of stream

What is remarkable about the course is how much of a trail network the center of Washington contains. The paved, and even unpaved trails of Rock Creek Park are obvious and well known, but soon we are on a trail behind Dumbarton Oaks Museum and a block after exiting its grounds and crossing Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, we are on the Whitehaven Trail on a narrow one block long stretch that involves a rather steep climb and descent - and some complaints from Emaad.

The strip-like park containing the trail continues until we come to the Glover Archibold Trail (built on top of what may be a sewer line, as the top of a large concrete pipe occasional peeks through the dirt) and there is a less-than-floral scent in some wet places. Speaking of which . . .

We are running along with another participant, sometimes ahead, sometimes trailing, but close enough that we are chatting.  I scout for an appropriate tree and tell her to go ahead.  She says there no need for her to do so and she is happy to follow me, but I reply that she probably doesn't want to follow me where I'm headed. She agrees.

The trail is better marked than in previous years, and making the turn to the west into the Wesley Heights Park is easier than in years gone by. We hit the water only aid station crossing 49th Street and head onto the Battery Kemble trail.

Win and I have run here several times and she said that she might meet us there and run a little with us. But she and husband Bill have decided to visit the National Arboretum instead.

To Theodore Roosevelt Island/Key Bridge Aid Station (Mile 8.6)
By now we have a fairly consistent pod?/pack?/group? of runners consisting of Emaad and myself, Smitty, Caroline and a couple of others. We talk about races we have done, and ones coming up. Down the trail, across MacArthur Boulevard by the old red schoolhouse and up the short, but steep and rocky path to the old trolley trail. Once on it, it is broad, flat and grassy, but it does require some detours on to residential streets and a tricky section behind Georgetown Day School.

Along the C&O towpath
After crossing Foxhall Road, we go through the tunnel under Canal Road and the C&O Canal and emerge onto the canal towpath.  There we are passed by runners with bibs running a race on the towpath, and we have to maneuver around and through the crowds at the finish.

We cross the pedestrian bridge over the towpath and turn onto Key Bridge heading for Virginia. Only six days ago I was running in the middle of the bridge headed the opposite direction with ten of thousands of other runners during the Marine Corps Marathon. Not only are we headed the opposite direction today, but we wear no bibs, there are no crowds to cheer us, and no one who sees us knows that we are in a organized event. Of course, that's what happens when the event is 300 times smaller.

The aid station is at the foot of the pedestrian bridge over the George Washington Parkway, where the Mount Vernon Trail becomes the Potomac Heritage Trail. We get to eat the pretzels and chips we brought, nibble on a donut hole and some cookies and eventually head out.

Old boiler along PHT (click to learn more)
To Chain Bridge Aid Station (Mile 12.5)
 The first mile or two of the Potomac Heritage Trail is generally runnable, as it stays on a narrow strip of land between the George Washington Parkway and the Potomac River.  There are nice views of Georgetown University and the Maryland shoreline by the C&O Canal.

But in a bit, as the parkway climbs upward and the trail stays by the river, the path gets rocky and our pace slows down, sometimes to a crawl. A real crawl, that is, over the rocks and boulders that are the path.

Mark, accompanied as he always is, it seems, by a woman or two, goes past us. Some VHTRC folks, running their own course on the other side of the river, hail us. We chat about running, politics and random topics as we pick our way over the increasingly technical (read, rocky) landscape. At one point Emaad forges his own trail, having missed the subtle change in direction of the course. Smitty comments on how this year's flooding has brought much new sand to the trail. In some places the Potomac at flood stage has cut into the bank by the trail, and a slip or trip could result in a ten-foot drop onto rocks at the river edge. Caution prevails.

Emaad and Caroline head up at Gulf Run
Finally we have to climb up the steep rock face at Gulf Run.  Handrails set years or decades ago by the National Park Service have been displaced from their original positions and we all take care with our footing, because a misstep here could result in serious injury.
Rock scramble
Our ascent is successful, and after a short run along a ridge, we descend, cross under Chain Bridge Road and arrive at the Chain Bridge aid station.

To the Finish (Mile 19.4)
Emaad and I planned to return to the start here, and technically, even if we hadn't we have missed the 11:30 a.m. cut-off by about six minutes.  But since it is a fat-ass, the aid station volunteers say that if folks want to go on they can, but it is unlikely that the aid station will be there when they return.

In any case, there is no hurry by the half dozen or so runners to leave the aid station, as not only is it well stocked with the usual assortment of chips, candy and cookies, but there are stuffed grape leaves, quesadillas and pirogies.  For beverages there is the usual soda, water and Gatorade.  I observe wistfully that I once had wine at the aid station.  No wine, a volunteer says, but how about this, pulling out a beer.  Smitty and I split the 12 ounces.

Emaad and I, accompanied by two runners, head out across Chain Bridge. I'm familiar with this part of the course from previous years, and play tour guide for the new runners. One takes advantage of the facilities at Fletcher's Boathouse before we scramble climb over the railing and through the tunnel under Canal Road to pick up Battery Kemble Trail. By now it is past noon, so there are more people out, particularly dog walkers, so we exchange greetings with more folks.

Just after crossing Foxhall Road I slip and fall, landing on my backside. No harm to my legs or torso but I jammed by my left ring finger on a rock. the finger works OK, but I glance at it and the nail is turning purple. I get squeamish and turn away.  After a bit it begins to throb, but rather than look at it I take a pair of ibuprofen tablets. In a bit the pain recedes.

Rambling (certainly not running) in DC
In the last couple of miles we get passed by a couple of fast runners who have done the entire course. We catch up with James, who is pretty much walking.  Emaad starts to tire and I finally stop waiting for him to catch up with me and run and walk to the finish. I sit down at a table outside the RD's house, stop my watch and write down my time and distance on the finishers sheet. Emaad comes in a couple of minutes later. Then Caroline and her friend a minute or two later.

We go inside to a feast of beef hot dogs and rolls, turkey chili, two kinds of vegetarian curry and rice, Halloween candy, beer and soft drinks.

According to the posted results, 33 runners ran 50K, or in a few cases, more. And who knows how many different courses were run, as quite a number of people free-lanced, and ran where they wanted and as far as they wanted. Or some may have run the exact same route as someone else, but reported a different distance based on individual GPS measurements. But that is the nature of, and perhaps the lesson of PHT50 - it is what you want it to be.

I finished in 5:29:36, about ten minutes slower than it took to do 6.8 miles more at MCM the previous week. But that was on a smooth, flat road course.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Marine Corps Marathon - October 28, 2018

Not My First MCM
This was my thirteenth Marine Corps Marathon, and it was a bit of Groundhog Day. A couple of weeks before the race I send out the usual email to the usual riders for the usual carpool to the usual staging area for the usual walk to the start. On Friday I made the usual drive to the usual inconvenient Gaylord National Resort for packet pick-up (for three persons, as usual) and the expo.  I met Barry at the expo, we posed for the usual pre-race photo and ate the usual post-race food at the usual (Brass Tap) pub.
Barry and I have been here before

I had not planned to run it this year, but Andrew signed up and I told him I would run it with him. Unfortunately his plans to have someone work for him fell through and then a busy Saturday night of calls put him in no shape to meet the starting cannon.

Both Rebecca and Barry show up in time for the 0540 AIS departure. Road closures on the way to the MCRRC hospitality suite at the Rosslyn Holiday Inn are a constant fear of mine. With recent terrorist incidents, security might be ratcheted up yet again, and indeed, we have to contend with a few bits of detouring. But nothing overly difficult and we arrive timely and park in the usual place.

At the start
The MCRRC first-time marathon group leaves the suite a bit earlier than usual because of those concerns but we linger a bit, make last minute adjustments (warm enough to leave gloves behind!) and walk to the start. The Marines manning the checkpoint are efficient in wanding us, and we get to the start in plenty of time.

The wheelchair racers go off at 0745 and at 0755 the M2A1 Howitzer blast signals the start of the race.  Since we approached the start from the course end, we don't bother to walk back to our assigned corral, but rather wait for the corral to reach us.  We watch for ten minutes as runners advance toward the start, and it gives one an appreciation of how big a race it is, (20616 runners will finish.) We decide it is time to go, and we step into the stream of runners moving toward the start.

No Hurry
Barry, Rebecca and I set off on a leisurely pace. We have a long way to go, and reason to hurry.  Rebecca is coming back from an injury and does not plan to go more than eight or nine miles. I plan to goad her into pushing further. Barry, who runs quite a bit despite a cranky hip, plans to simply go.

We go along together for the first four miles, with Rebecca and I taking walk breaks to stay with Barry who takes necessary walk breaks. After going down Spout Run Parkway onto the George Washington Parkway past mile 3 I take them over to the edge of the road and urge them to peer over the low stone wall at the Potomac Heritage Trail, which runs between the Parkway and the Potomac River all the way to the American Legion Bridge.

Crossing Key Bridge beyond mile 4 Rebecca and I look back for Barry, but cannot see him, so we proceed onward.  We get drinks at the water stop on M Street in Georgetown and I stop to tuck my extra shirt, which is tied about my waist, into my shorts, which are in danger of falling down. (No danger of embarrassment here; I'm  wearing tights under the shorts.)

Rebecca calls it a day
We proceed up Rock Creek Parkway and I text daughter Hilary letting her know our progress. She said that she would see us at the turnaround in Rock Creek Park at about mile 7.5. But her response dashes those hopes: "I don't think we'll make it! I'm still running with Jess on Beach! Good luck!"

Rebecca and I make the turn and in a minute or two spot Barry headed toward the turnaround, so he's only a couple of minutes behind. We chat with fellow runners, and skip the orange slices offered by the Kennedy Center at mile 10.  We catch up to and exchange greetings with 79-year old "Nick the Brit" (who finishes in 5:39) who we know from MCRRC.
When we reach the 11 mile marker Rebecca announces that she is calling it a day, as she has gone further than her planned 8-9 miles and has an eight hour ride back to Ohio where she is a professor of taxation.

The Blue Mile
Perhaps the one thing that sets the Marine Corps Marathon apart from all other races that I have run is the Blue Mile. "Wear blue: run to remember" is a national nonprofit running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military. The Blue Mile, always mile 12 of MCM, consists of picture after picture of American service members killed in action, arrayed chronologically. It is a somber stretch and it is common to see runners stopped to take pictures or stand contemplating comrades or family members pictured alongside the course. But the heart-rending scenes come closer to the end of the mile, where time has not had a change to soften the loss of a loved one. Grief, sorrow, tears are common, and runners stop to touch the pictures of their loved one who will never be with them again.
So many do


Grief and sorrow on the Blue Mile

I cross the halfway mat in 2:38. I'm neither pushing the pace nor slowing it down. Rebecca had noted that we were running at a 12 minute per mile pace and that's about what I continue to run.  On Independence Avenue crossing Kutz Bridge over the Tidal Basin, I chat with a woman wearing a birthday banner.  October 28 is her 60th birthday, and I joke that running a marathon is not much of a present.  She says she ran it on her 40th and 50th and figured she should do it on her 60th. And then she tells me it is her 38th MCM.

On the eastbound side of Independence I scream at some oblivious runners to get out of the way of  wheelchair runners being pushed by their team. Why people insist on running with blasting headphones while surrounded by tens of thousands of other runners and spectators is beyond me. Worse being unaware of warnings is a lack of situational awareness is dangerous to you and rude to others.  I resist the urge to yank out the runner's earbuds, something I've done at MCMs gone by. Maybe I'm getting soft. Or mellow. Or just trying to be civil to the uncivil.

I continue my chatting with random runners as we pass the foot of Capitol Hill, return to Fourteenth Street and cross the Fourteenth Street Bridge into Virginia. I figure that if someone doesn't want me chatting at them they should run away. Or tell me to stop talking. No one does either.
Beer in Crystal City
In Crystal City I get beer not once, but twice. Nothing like liquid complex carbohydrates to refresh a runner.

Around mile 23.5 there is a runner on the ground attended to by a police officer and a volunteer. He's cramping so I offer him one of the salt tablets I'm carrying.  Just a bit further one three runners are on the sidewalk, trying to stretch out their cramped legs.  I offer all of them salt tablets, and two of them accept.

I press on - relentless forward progress-  with plenty of walking on the uphill on Route 110 beyond mile 25. I marvel how quickly the Marines have taken down the start line and cleaned up that stretch of the road - on the other hand they had nearly 4.5 hours to do so, so maybe not so quickly.

My 13th MCM Finisher's medal
The crowds grow and get louder - remarkable enthusiasm for those of us on the backside of the pack, - approaching mile 26 and the turn up the hill to the finish.

A treat from the North Carolina Watermelon Queen
A bit of walk up the hill, then run to the finish line and clock 5:19:03. My slowest MCM by 20 minutes, but I'm indifferent.  I had no goal other than finish, and had Andrew been there I would have run with him and likely been even slower.

And since it's a Groundhog Day event, I make sure to find the Watermelon Board stand at the end, get some of the refreshing red fruit, and pose with the North Carolina Watermelon Queen.

Overall 13864 of 20621, 8079 of 11078 males, 96 of 218 in my age M65-69 group.

Swag: Shirt, Bib, Patch, Medal, Program Snack Box

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Cayuga Trails Marathon - July 21, 2018

[A combination blogspot/computer/human error lost most of the report that I had laboriously written. 😢 I'm not rewriting all of it, but I've included some of what was saved and brief versions of parts of the original draft. And all the pictures, which are the better stuff anyway. ]

Rather that write a linear report, I've simply included vignetes from the day at Cayuga Trails Marathon.

Spelling Does Not Count
Even though the race is held in Ithaca, the home of race organizer Red Newt Racing (which holds three other races in the town at the end of Cayuga Lake), the bib says the race is in "Ithica, NY." Doesn't anyone proof read any more? BTW, the spell check for this blog flagged the misspelling. Fortunately, Red Newt Racing gets the important stuff right, and the course is well marked, and the aid stations well-stocked.

No Little Blue Pills were Involved
The volunteer offers a "Keep it up," and I respond with my usual, "If it lasts longer than three hours, contact your doctor." Another runner smartly adds, "Or get a new girlfriend."

Tracks and Streams
About a half mile after leaving the Underpass aid station (so named because the trail passes under Route 13 there) at about mile 7.5, the trail crosses a single track rail road line and then immediately crosses Lick Creek.

Lick Creek with Railroad Bridge in background.

Don't take selfies on railroad tracks!
Gorges Are Gorgeous
The course takes runners through, over and into three gorges: Enfield Gorge in Robert Treman State Park at the start and end of the race, Lick Brook Gorge after (and then before) the Underpass aid station, and Buttermilk Falls Gorge at the far end.
Falls in Enfield Gorge
Enfield Gorge Above the Falls

Mouth of Lick Creek Gorge

There were not many flowers in the woods or on the ridges, but there were some on the flat past the Underpass aid station.

Cutleaf Coneflowers

Cardinal Flowers
What's in a Name
(Outbound near King Road, mile 9)"Is your name Kent?" the woman runner asks me. ""Close," I say, "I'm Ken." "Oh," she says, "You look like a Kent."

In a short while the women says to the volunteer at the road crossing, "You're Andy," . "No, I'm Justin," he replies. "Oh, she says,"you look like a Andy."

On the way back (mile 16) I come upon the same volunteer, "Hi, Andy. You look like a Justin," I say. (It seemed witty at the time.)

The first set of steps.
Steps and Cramps
The course has anywhere from 3980 feet of climb (according to my Runkeeper track file) to 4500 (according to the race website) or more, according to other GPS tracking, but it certainly has at least four steep climbs, some of 500-600 feet over a mile or so. Ithaca is Gorges, indeed. In some places there are steps to make life easier for walkers and hikers, but they are tough for runners. The steps are generally made with 4 by 4 timbers, so the rise is less than on normal stairs, and the width of the tread varies from step to step. It does not take much on a hot and humid day, especially if one delays the first salt capsule of the day, for those steps to induce repeated cramps.

You Think You Are Good for Your Age?
I feel smug about being the oldest finisher in the marathon event, but two older runners finish the 50 miler, including 70-year old Gene Dykes, for whom this is a cool down run, as he did a 24 hour and a 100 mile race earlier this year, and ran the Triple Crown of 200s last year - two 200s and a 238 mile race over three months.

 By the Numbers
I finished in 7:40:10, good for 138 of 153 overall, 91 of 96 males, and 4 of 5 in the 60-69 AG. And oldest marathoner.

Swag: Singlet, Finisher's Cup, Buff, "Ithica" bib.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Dam Good (Dam Insane) 40K Run - April 22, 2018

"They weren't Scottsdale cougars, they were hyenas," Sara observes as we leave the second stop of Friday evening, "They weren't even from Scottsdale." She is giving Emaad and I a tour of the night gathering places of Scottsdale's beautiful people. Her observation is well taken, as there are several women trying to contain too much flesh with too little fabric. But we have had a drink and a bite to eat and we are ready for more nightlife.

Our next stop, the Ocean Club (the Pacific Ocean is 300 miles away, so why the name?), is quite different.  It is located in Scottsdale's version of San Jose's Santana Row. Walking in is like being in a movie. The main floor is a couple of steps down, so we can see the entire floor.  It's packed, with a small band playing on the left, tables on several tiers to the right, and a semi-circular bar protruding from the back wall. As in a movie, the crowd seems to part as we make our way to the bar.  Drinks in hand, we observe the groups and couples around us. A younger woman sits with an older man next to the piano. His hands rub the outside of her thighs; her hands massage the tops of his. She slips a $20 into the tip jar for the band. I don't see if it came from her purse or his wallet. We speculate on the nature of their relationship. Greg, Sara's husband joins us at the Ocean Club.  After another drink or two, the band with lead male singer Giovanni winds up its sets, and we call it a night.

Earlier on Friday, Emaad and I had take a road trip to Sedona to view the red rocks, hike a bit and visit the vortexes to recharge our . . . whatever energy one gets from vortexes. Sedona is crowded and while we get close to a couple of the vortex locations, we never quite get centered on one. But the scenery is good and we have a tasty lunch, including cactus fries, at the Cowboy Club Grille. We stop at a craft fair in a parking lot in Oak Creek, just south of Sedona, where a vendor tries in vain to sell us crystals, "you put this next to your bed and it blocks the harmful rays from your cell phone while you sleep. And it cures headaches, too."

Saturday Sara takes us on a quick tour of her horse-friendly neighborhood and points out Hoover to us when we drive by where he lives. Hoover is a Bactrian (two-humped) camel. When we ask why anyone would own a camel, Sara gives the obvious answer, "Because they can."

Dam Nice Run
Emaad and I are up early for our drive to Lake Pleasant Regional Park, where the Dam Good Runs are being held. There are five of them:  40 Km (Dam Insane), which I am doing; the  26 Km (Dam Crazy), which Emaad is doing; the 13 Km (Dam Tough) which Sara is doing, and the 4 Mile (Dam Challenging) and 2 Mile (Dam Fun).
Emaad and I at the Start/Finish Line Pre-race

Since we arrive for the first race we park less than 50 yards from the start, pick up our bibs, slather on sunscreen and watch the sun come up over the mountains to the east of the lake. It is sunny but the temerature is in the upper 60s, although we know that won't last long.

At 6:30 the sixty-one 40K runners set off.  The 26K starts a half hour later and the 13K 30 minutes after that, so I won't see Emaad and Sara during my run. I'm comfortably near the back of the group.

We run on a road and then over the New Waddell Dam, built in 1993. The first dam was begun in 1895 and finished in 1927 and each subsequent has gotten longer and higher. The dam is generally not open for traversing.  A road continues on the other side, and after about two miles of pavement, we double back on the other side of a fence on the dirt trail. A left turn takes us onnto the Maricopa Trail and down a dry wash away from the dam. Some gentle up and down for a few miles takes us to Agua Fria aid station (mile 5.3).  I get there in 1:02, drink some water, eat some chips and M&Ms and move on. I'm surprised to see a timing mat there, something unusual for a trail run.
Typical Trail Scenery with Saguaro Cactus

The trail crosses the Agua Fria River on a small wooden bridge, more like some planks, through dense overgrowth. It is a bit of a run through a jungle as the growth forms a canopy over the trail and the temperature is appreciably cooler. But that lasts for only 50 yards or so and we come out on the Old Lake Pleasant Road, run uphill on it for a short bit and cross it onto the Beardsley Trail on the other side.

It's approaching 8 a.m. and the weather is definitely getting warm under a cloudless sky. The trail is not technical, but there are plenty of small rocks embedded in it as it winds through the scrub..  We encounter a couple of bicyclists coming in the opposite direction, but everyone is polite. A couple of miles past Agua Fria the first of the 26K runners fly past, and more will do so as we go on.

On the Maricopa Trail
(courtesy of Aravaipa Running)
I say we, but by and large I'm running by myself. The 54 runners have now gotten fairly spaced out, and although I occasionally catch up to someone and someone catches up to me, it is a day to run alone.
In five miles I arrive at the Two Cow aid station (mile 10.3) in an elapsed time of 2:07.  I refill my Nathan get some more things to eat and head out again.

At Two Cow aid station outbound
A couple of miles and 25 minutes brings us to the aid station at Scorpion Bay (mile 11.9). This is the turn-around point for the 26K runners and we see a number of them headed back while we are still headed out. Once again it is a chance to refuel before heading onto the Pipeline Canyon trail for the turnaround at the Cottonwood aid station.

In about a mile we come to the floating bridge over Pipeline Cove. The bridge is steel decked and doesn't bounce around while running across it. On the other side there are a number of horseback riders and we are careful to let them know we are there and to ask permission to go by, as horses have the right of way.

After about two miles I come to a trail intersection and become a bit confused.  The trail to the right seems to lead toward Yavapai Point, and I can see runners over there, but a sign says "wrong way."  I consult with a hiker and head straight but don't see any ribbons marking the trail so I stop and double back toward the intersection. A couple of runners come toward me and indicate that straight is correct and we head that way. I leap frog with them, as one is starting to get tired from the heat.  I get the the Cottonwood aid station (mile 15, elapsed time 3:26) ahead of them. As I replenish the fluids in my Nathan, dunk my hat and handkerchief in water, apply sunscreen and eat some oranges and watermelon they arrive.  The one woman sits down and declares her day done.
Floating Bridge at Pipeline Cove

The other woman introduces herself as Siggy and we head out for the return journey which includes a 400 foot climb to the top of Yavapai Point. Another woman passes us as we begin the ascent.  Siggy drops back. The other woman stops to give her water pack to a runner coming down.  She explains that he is her boyfriend and his waterpack had sprung a leak and he is out of water. Given that the sun is high in the sky, there is no shade and the temperature is reaching 90 degrees it is not a good situation to be in.  I offer to share my water with her but she happily explains that she is carrying plenty of extra.
Headed Down from Yavapai Point
(courtesy of Aravaipa Running)

It is a long climb up the single-track and switchbacks to the top but the views are well worth it.  Just as I head back down I meet Siggy coming up.  She get to me and sits on a rock. She does not look good.  I ask her if she has taken any salt.  She says only in Gatorade.  I give her a Succeed salt tablet and suggest that she might want to sit under the bench at the top to get some shade.  On the way down I cross paths with a couple of hikers and ask them to check on her when they get to the top.

Fire-scorched cactus 
 On the way down I pass several more runners still on the way to the summit. We exchange greetings and continue of our respective ways.

On the trail I grow weary of the hard rocky ground. With some experimentation I conclude that stepping on the horse pies (not the fresh ones) provides much softer footing.

Cactus in Bloom

Riders Ahead!

Another view of Lake Pleasant


Another cactus bloom.

 I make the turn onto Pipeline Canyon Trail and head toward Scorpion Bay.  A woman sits fishing on the floating bridge and I joke with her that I might take that up as a new pastime.  She reminds me that she had to hike in to the bridge.

Pipeline Canyon Trail from the Yavapai Trail.
Approaching Scorpion Bay aid station (mile 20.2, elapsed time 5:04) the shadow of a buzzard crosses the trail in front of me. Ominous perhaps, I think, although I can see the aid station. I repeat my now familiar aid station routine of oranges and watermelon and hat and hankerchief dipping, and get a bonus from the aid station workers who put ice in my hat. I comment on the advantage that a female friend has of putting ice in her running bra, and the female aid station volunteers agree that it is a definite plus.

Two Cow Aid Station inbound. Siggy on left.
This time it takes 31 minutes to go the 1.6 miles between Scorpion Bay and Two Cow( mile 21.8, elapsed time 5:36), compared to the 25 minutes in the opposite direction earlier in the day. and while I go thru my now familiar aid station routine, Siggy comes in. and she thanks me profusely for the salt tablet I gave her up on the point. It's rejuvenated her.

Lake Pleasant from the trail.
We head out together for the last three miles to the finish. A little bit of leapfrogging, and not a lot of taking, but just being together helps keep both of us moving.  I give her an estimate of how long I think it will take to finish. We head up what seems like a long climb that actually isn't and her friend who had dropped at Cottonwood walks toward us.  In a little bit I see Emaad coming toward me.

I get to the Park Road where a Maricopa County deputy is stationed to assure safe crossing. I stop, face him and launch into a rap inspired by Junior Brown's Highway Patrol:
"You have a star on your car,
And one on your chest,
A gun on your hip,
And the right to arrest,
You're the boss on this road,
So I do what you say,
When you tell me to cross,
I'll be on my way."

He waves me across and with that I run the last 100 yards to the finish.
I finish in 6:31:17, first (and only) in my age group; 35 of 39 males; 48 of 56 finishers. Five runners did not finish.

Siggy is about 40 seconds behind me. After meeting up with her husband, child and dog she comes over to me and thanks me again for the salt tablet.  I resist the urge the take a dip in the lake. Emaad and I get in the car, drive back to our hotel, clean and rest up and go to Sara's for dinner.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Marine Corps Marathon - October 22, 2017

The Pieta of the Blue Mile
The 30-something woman is sitting on the ground, inconsolable even though two friends are with her, one on either side. She is crying and sobbing, and her shoulders heave while her hand reaches out to the picture of a service member near the end of the long row of pictures along the Blue Mile. Brother? Husband? Friend? All we know is that the heartbreak is fresh and raw and not what she ever thought she would have to face at mile 12 of the Marine Corps Marathon.

I try to say something to Emaad but the words stick in my throat. The human cost of our endless wars is on display in its rawest emotional form. There really are no words to say.

The Blue Mile is at mile 12 on the long, straight flat stretch of Hains Point, with the Potomac River to the right.  About 250 pictures of fallen warriors line either side of the course, arranged in chronological order. The runners, who had been chatting along, spontaneously fall silent through the sorrowful gauntlet. Each sign is the same: a picture with a name a date a location and an age in a blue bordered-frame. Some are in combat gear, others in dress uniforms, others in family portraits. The dates roll on - 2014, 2015, 2016, February 2017, June 2017, September and October 2017.

The woman is near the end - a September picture likely, or maybe even October.  When she signed up for MCM, she thought she would honor him by running the race. There was no way should could have known that his picture would be there on the Blue Mile, for he must have been - he had to have been - alive when she signed up for the race in the Spring.

Some runners stop and take pictures with some of the signs, but they are near the beginning of the Blue Mile, and they have had a chance for their losses to develop scars.

But not her. It has only been a few weeks when she received notification and the pain, the loss, the grief is still fresh. And she ran 12 miles knowing what lay ahead. Every step coming closer to the picture of the man that she would see or hear again. A long journey with no hope, no chance of a different outcome.

And the rest of us run by, by the tens, or hundreds, or even thousands depending on how long she sat there with her hand on the sign of the man who would never come home again.

The Evolution of a Plan
Emaad and I do a 20-mile training run several weeks before MCM.  We find ourselves running some and walking some. I suggest that for MCM maybe we should regularize it rather than our current ad hoc approach of walking when we feel like it. He agrees and we decide that a run 5, walk 1 minute approach might be right.

The next week I see a report from Kenny on his performance at the Hartford Marathon, He runs 3:01 and keeps a nearly perfect even pace throughout.   Karsten congratulates him on his ability to stay focused and implement his plan and not try to chase a sub-3 hour goal at the end.  This gives me two more ideas - run an even pace (no fly-and-die, banking time at the start) and stick to the plan.

Our goal is rather modest - to finish under five hours.  It hasn't happened in 2017 for me, with a catastrophic collapse at the GW Birthday Marathon and a less spectacular but still dreadful final four miles at the Edinburgh Marathon. Emaad agrees on the plan.

Amigas Fall by the Wayside
For the past several years we have had the Cinco Amigos at MCM, with Jennifer and Rebecca joining Emaad, Barry and myself in carpooling to the race.  But Jennifer is having heart issues and decides that prudence is the best course of non-action. Rebecca has started a new career as a law professor some distance from Washington and determines that it would be wiser (that's why she is a professor) to stay at school and prepare for an upcoming evaluation than drive hundreds of miles round trip and be exhausted in the classroom upon her return.

Tres Amigos, or as Barry said, Three Blind Mice
Barry and Emaad show up at my house on time, I give them coffee and we grab the box of regular-sized donuts (Rebecca usually provided a box of "colossal donuts). The drive to the MCRRC suite at the Rosslyn Holiday Inn is uneventful, as is the subsequent walk to the starting line about a mile away.

Implement the Plan
The weather promises to be warm, with highs in the 70s so we dress and prepare accordingly. Shorts are in order and Emaad and I decide to carry hand-held bottles to increase our ability to hydrate. I also carry gels for energy and Succeed! salt tablets.

At the start Barry hangs back to meet up with Sako and Emaad and I go on. We go out easy, partly because it takes nearly a mile for my chronically sore right knee to stop complaining. But that is a blessing in disguise as it prevents us from getting caught up in the initial excitement of the start of the nation's fourth largest marathon, with V-22 Ospreys doing flyovers, rows of troops holding flags and the iconic howitzer blast of a starting gun.

Headed down Spout Run, about mile 3
We walk much of the uphill on Lee Highway toward the water station at mile 2 then pick up the pace a little bit on the downhill of Spout Run. The crowded course keeps us from going too fast, and the uphill of the ramp to Key Bridge calls forth another walk opportunity.  We reach the water stop on M Street in Georgetown about a minute ahead of the five hour pace. Down to K Street and the loop to head north on Rock Creek Parkway keeps us going, and we become a bit more structured about the run 5, walk 1 strategy.

Northbound on Rock Creek Parkway, about mile 6
It is a mile and a half north on the Parkway and then we turnaround for the five and a half miles of flat course to the halfway mark at Hains Point. We skip the proffered orange slices near the Kennedy Center and step carefully as the oils from the cast aside peels make the pavement slick.

Every mile I compare my watch with the pace band and announce how we are doing. Since mile 5 we have been about two minutes ahead of the five hour pace, and we retain that difference all the way to the halfway mark which we clear in 2:28:06.

This is the point last year that things started to deteriorate, but I feel good now.  This is partly due to the walk every five minutes and partly due to carrying a bottle which enables us to have it topped up at the water stations rather than trying to drink from half-filled small cups.

Circling the Tidal Basin just past mile 15 I spot a penny in the road and circle back a couple of steps to pick it up. That may have been inspired by a spectator sign earlier on the course: "You paid $160 for this. That's $6.11 per mile. Run like it's worth it."

In just a bit we spy An on the side of the course. He gives Emaad and I cookies, which Barry had asked him to bring down.

Just after making the turn at the end of Independence Avenue to head back toward the Mall and the Capitol, I hear, "Dad! Dad!" It's Andrew, who deferred his entry to next year.  He's down there with his bike to cheer on a friend who has come to town from the Southwest. He trots along for awhile, pushing the bike while chatting with Emaad and me. Finally he peels off to seek his friend who is ahead of us.

Through mile 15 we maintain our two minute cushion, but now we are starting to struggle. At mile 16 we are a minute to the good and at mile 17 we are even. Emaad is starting to fade and when we reach mile 18, even with the pace card, we have a brief discussion.  I tell him I'm feeling pretty good and he urges me to go on.
Approaching the Capitol, just past mile 18
Chasing the Clock
Being even with eight miles to go means there is no margin of error, no cushion, no "time in the bank." And the old joke about a marathon being a 10K following a 20 mile warm-up still lies two miles ahead.

But I have a plan, I feel good and decide that I need to go as best I can in the parameters of the plan.  I put Kenny and Karsten's comments on replay in my mind.

At the water stop just past mile 19, across from the Smithsonian Castle I unscrew the top from my bottle and thrust it toward the USMC lieutenant manning the table. "Thank you, sir," I ask. As the bottle is filled the lieutenant says, "That's thank you ma'am." I babble an apology and run off.

Making  turn onto 14th Street to approach the eponymous bridge, I spy a nickel in the road. But it is truly "in the road" and after a couple of tries I can't pry it out and abandon the effort.

Passing the mile 21 marker on the far end of the bridge I note that I'm a minute behind the pace card, and I stay a minute behind at mile 22 headed into Crystal City.

The Man in the Arena
I recall Theodore Roosevelt's speech to the Sorbonne in 1910: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Although I am familiar with the quote, it doesn't actually come to mind. But the spirit of it does. And then something happens that convinces me that I cannot give up.

I hit the wrong button on my watch.

At some point in Crystal City, amidst the cheering crowds and runners going in both directions I realize that I hit the stop button rather than the start button to reset the mile timer.  I don't know how long ago it was, just that my watch is no longer going to tell me how long I have been running and hence, how much time I have remaining.  And to compound the mistake I miss mile markers 23 and 24, so I don't even have a recent mile pace.

All that remains is to stay mentally strong, and execute the plan. I "need to get my mind right."

I keep enough of my wits to get some beer from the Hash House Harriers, though. Hydration is important.

Nothing to do now but implement the plan. Run 5, walk 1. I even do it on the small hill of the ramp onto Route 110 and the downhill toward mile 26 and the left turn up toward the finish at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Only there, on the steep first part of the climb, do I walk during what should be a run interval. But at the top, with the finish in sight I run and cross the finish. The clock says 5:10, but that is gun time, not chip time. I'll have to wait until I get home to see if I broke five hours.

Thank you, Lieutenant!
I collect my medal from the Marine lieutenant at the end, gather my food box and a bottle of water and head back toward the hotel.  I stop to get watermelon from the Delaware-Maryland Watermelon Queen (2017 was a good year, I'm told) and give the bottle of water to a woman hovering over a nauseous runner on his knees. At the hotel I change, and get some beef stew, cookies and a beverage from the buffet while I wait for Emaad and Barry.

Emaad finishes in 5:31, saying he mostly walked the last eight miles. Barry finishes in 6:03.

That night I check the results.  I finished in 4:59:56. Mission accomplished!

My splits were 2:28/2:31. Overall, I was 50 of 204 in my 65-69 AG, 6131 of 10776 males and 9980 of 20042 overall.

Watermelon from a Queen
Swag: shirt, bib, medal, patch

Program, snack box, pace band and cool-down jacket

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ran It With Janet 50K - June 3, 2017

For a Good Cause
I pick up Gayatri for our drive out to the Manassas National Battlefield Park and the third running of the Ran It With Janet 50K. The race is the brainstorm and unicorn child of Janet Choi, who puts the race on as a fundraiser for the Embry Rucker Emergency Shelter in Reston, Virginia. But unlike many other charity races, where the race organizer makes vague promises about donating "the profits" or "a portion" of the race fees to a charity, Janet has a simple and transparent model.  The race fee is $5 and she asks that you make a donation to Cornerstones, the non-profit organization that operates the shelter.  She does not require that one make a donation or even recommend an amount. Instead, there is a link to a 'friendraiser' page on the race website and a jar on the registration table.  I put a check for Cornerstones in the jar when I register, pleased to know that the entire amount will go to Janet's charity of choice.
Clockwise from top: Jennifer, Ken, Mark, Gayatri
(photo by Mark Zimmermann)
We meet Mark and Jennifer at the start at the Brownsville Picnic Pavilion.  It is a covered pavilion where we can leave drop bags. This is a low-key race and there are only 57 persons signed up. Since the course is three loops some runners plan to run only one or two laps. Janet calls everyone to the parking lot for the start, gives some instructions and words of advice and encouragement, and sends us off.
Janet give instructions while Mark photographs her
First Lap - The History Tour
Jennifer, Gayatri and I start off together while Mark takes photos and takes his time. The weather is not bad for the beginning of June and is considerably cooler than last year (report here).  After a couple of miles Jennifer and I pull away from Gayatri, but it soon becomes evident to me that I will not be able to stay for long with Jennifer. As usual, she has packed plenty on her schedule for the day - as if running a 50K isn't enough - and she has to pick up her rock-climbing daughter later in the afternoon. That is even more incentive for her to run fast, and after about five miles, I wave her on and settle into my usual plodding pace.  It isn't long before she is out of sight.

Aid Station at Stone Bridge (about 4 miles into the loop)
On Second Manassas Trail west of Sudley Road
 Pretty much left to running alone, I spend some time contemplating the two battles that occurred on this ground more than 155 years ago, while our nation, as Lincoln said, "engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."

The two battles would claim 26,000 dead, wounded and missing. The casualties of Second Manassas, fought only 13 months after the first battle, show the increasing escalation of the war - with 2800 dead on both sides, compared to fewer than 900 at First Manassas. Yet that was a mere harbinger of what lay ahead, as 18 days later, the same two armies would engage in the single bloodiest day of American history, with a combined 22,700 casualties, including 3700 dead, at Antietam on September 17, 1862. Ten months later, three days at Gettysburg would add another 51,000 casualties to the toll of what Lincoln described as "every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'"

Henry Hill Monument
Commemorating Union soldiers who fell at First Bull Run
As to the cause of the war, and the reasons for it, hear Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, "One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war. . ."

Confederate Cannon near Brawner Farm, Second Manassas
And on this day, I run on the ground on which, and for which, so many suffered and died and were buried. Lincoln has the final word: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully."

Second Lap - On the Unicorn Trail
Returning to the start-finish I change my shirt and handkerchief that I carry to wipe off the sweat.  As I'm about to head out Mark and Gayatri come in and we go off together.  The day has warmed up a bit, but it isn't at all oppressive. We go on together for awhile and then, like during the first loop, Mark and I pull away from Gayatri. And just like on the first loop, Mark pulls away from me, in almost the same place where Jennifer had.  I slow down a bit and Gayatri catches up.

Kissing the Unicorn at the Featherbed Road Aid Station
(about 7 miles into the loop)
We take our time, running, walking and chatting. We see no other runners, neither overtaking anyone nor being overtaken. (That's not entirely accurate, as we do get lapped by several of the leaders on their way through their third and final loop.)

Gayatri passes a unicorn directional sign
I make this the unicorn loop, enjoying the unicorn-themed course signs, aid stations and other unicorn concepts that Janet incorporates into the race. Winners get unicorn-themed prizes, and the finishers' tumblers have unicorns on them as well.

On the trail near the unfinished railroad trail
About a mile from the end of the loop, as we run on the trail through a field, I move a bit to my right to avoid a large black stick on the trail.  Then the three-foot long stick comes to life and the northern black racer disappears into the grass on the left.  I give out a start, and Gayatri yells and jumps toward me.  We both quickly calm down and proceed to the finish of the second loop.

Third Loop - The Nature Tour
I change back into my shirt from the first loop, as it has dried out. In keeping with the battlefield theme, I'll wear blue on the first and third loops and grey on the second.

Bee on a thistle approaching Chinn Ridge
Since neither Gayatri nor I are in much of a hurry, and are simply content to finish,  I declare the third loop the nature loop and stop frequently to take pictures. We still see no other runners and speculate that we may be the last runners on the course.  At the Featherbed Road Aid Station we get a report that Mark is about 20 minutes ahead of us.  Approaching the Henry Hill Monument we come across Merle Zimmermann, Mark's son who offers to refill our bottles from gallon jugs of water he has carted out there.

Near Chinn Ridge
We thank him, pass the Brawner Farmhouse, cross Route 29, now Lee Highway, then the Warrenton Turnpike, pass the locale of the snake encounter, climb the final small hill, and head to the finish.

A pair of bees visiting a thistle


Queen Anne's Lace?


Wild Roses near the Unfinished Railroad
 Mark is waiting at the finish line with his camera and urges us to sprint to the end.  Gayatri takes up the challenge, while I continue my steady, er, slow pace.
Gayatri out sprints me to the Finish
(Photo by Mark Zimmermann)
It turns out that we are not the final finishers.  Two other runners finish behind us, but I am the final male. On the other hand, I'm the oldest male. Gayatri is the oldest female besting two others.

I finish in 7:41:48, good for 32 of 34 finishers, 16 of 16 males (yeah, it is an ultra with more women than men finishers!) and 3 of 3 in my age group.   My loops are 2:10/2:35/2:55, all slower than last year and an overall 13 minutes slower. But it was an enjoyable run, and that's why I run.

Jennifer finishes in 6:08, good for fifth female overall and second in her age group. Gayatri wins her age group. Mark finishes in 7:16, also good for first in our age group.

A college alumni group is having picnic at the Brownsville Picnic area and they generously offer to share their food with us.  On the way home, we drive through McDonald's and I get a milkshake and an iced tea.
Swag: Bib and a Ran It with Janet tumbler