Thursday, May 9, 2019

North Face Endurance Challenge DC - April 27, 2019

No linear race report this time - just vignettes and pictures. If you want to know what the course is like, see my reports on the 2012 and 2013 North Face Mid-Atlantic 50Ks, and the 2014 North Face Mid-Atlantic 50M. Same race, same course, different name. The map is here, on pages 4 and 5.

What's a Fella to Wear?
Runners generally, and trail and ultrarunners in particular, obsess over what to wear and carry. What's the course surface (rocks, roots, sand, mud, etc.) and elevation (steep or rolling hills)?  How far apart are the aid stations? What time is sunrise and sunset? What's the terrain (shaded forest, open meadows, treeless desert?)?  What's the weather (hot, cold, humid, windy, afternoon storms?) Are there drop bags allowed?

Crunch the data and decide: long or short sleeve shirt (or more than one); tights or shorts; hat, visor, neither; gloves; buff; gaiters, headlamp; handheld bottle or bladder; gels or other nutrition (and how many); sunscreen or lip balm; salt tablets and ibuprofen; tissues; handkerchief.

Ready to start
A wet spring and rain on Friday assures that the course will be wet, so gaiters to keep the mud out of the shoes.  Cool temperatures to start suggest a long sleeved shirt; sleeves can be pulled up as the day warms up.  Running vest and bladder are a no-brainer to carry nutrition and adequate supplies of liquid.  The relatively cool temperatures and breezes mean it won't feel too warm to wear it. 

Tights are a closer matter. The temperature generally weighs against them, as after an hour or so it will be warm. But I live in dread of ticks and poison ivy, and the course has both, at least when I previously ran it in June.  The switch to an April date means the grass won't be so high in some of the fields so there is less chance of ticks, and the poison ivy will have had two fewer months to grow. But the tights will provide warmth in the beginning and protection from those things I dread, so I go with them.  I figure I can take them off during the race if need be - I wear shorts over them.  Besides, the Eric Clifton-made jester tights always garner compliments.

Mud? We Laugh at the Mud!
A bit of rain Friday and Friday night promises to leave the course soggy on Saturday, and sure enough, the start of the race at 7 a.m. has use stepping through soggy grass around the soccer field at the start used to spread out the field and plodding through mud in the early going.

Bluebells along the Potowmack Canal (mile 4)
But after the mudfest that was Seneca Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K in March Emaad and I don't find the course particularly troubling.  I urge the more cautious runners around us to just run through it: "You're going to get wet and muddy today, so go ahead and get it over with now. Remember all those times your mother told you to stay out of the mud? Well today you get to play in it."

After a few miles of somewhat muddy conditions, the partly sunny day and breezy conditions work to help dry out the course, although there still is some mud in the last few miles, but less than was there when we were outbound in the morning.

In Riverbend Park (mile 21)

"Congratulations on your finish," I say to Sara, "Now you are no longer a [is there the slightest hesitation in my voice? Does she notice it?] rookie."  Although I ran the 50K race and she ran the marathon, we leapfrog each other the last 8 or 9 miles and I chat with her during times we are running together.  Not only is this her first trail marathon, it is her first marathon on any surface and I provide morale support and practical advice as we run along. She tells her non-running boy friend that my support helped her to the finish.

For some reason, this race attracts what seems to be a large numbers of first timers, for all its distances. It is very well organized, and the course is just challenging enough with some short but steep climbs along with its single track. The switch to April from its original June date means its less likely (but not impossible) to be brutally hot or humid, or both. And the addition of the Fraser aid station eliminates what used to be a 7 mile stretch without aid.

A few miles in I catch up to a runner and ask him if it is his first ultra. He replies in the affirmative.  He is running without a water bottle or any form of nutrition, flashing red clues that he has never done one before.  He says that with aid stations only 3 to 4 miles apart he will be OK.  I don't argue with him, but after a bit of leapfrogging he soon falls behind and we last see him in the loop in Great Falls Park, where he is probably a few miles behind even our leisurely pace.  And I don't see him at the finish, even though we hang out there awhile.
Emaad on boardwalk in Great Falls  (mile 18)

Somewhere between the Carwood and Frasier aid stations (around mile 23) I get passed by three young men. Two are wearing Navy-themed shirts, the third is bare chested. I complement one for the slogan on the back of his shirt: "If you want to go far, run with someone. If you want to go fast, run alone." I salute them with a "Go Navy" and get a "Beat Army" in return. We leap frog a bit but they are generally faster and soon disappear from sight.  

Awhile later I catch up to them. The shirtless runner is sitting on the ground rubbing his thigh. I ask him if he is cramping and he replies in the affirmative.  I give him a salt tablet, but he doesn't have anything to drink with it (none of them do; clearly first-time ultrarunners). I offer a drink from my pack, but he hesitates. Hold out your collapsible cup (the race is cupless - no paper cups at the aid stations, but every runner received a nice six ounce flexible cup to carry along) I instruct, and I fill it from the hose on my pack.

Great Falls Gorge Overlook (mile 19)
Later on, they will catch up and pass me individually.  As the last of the shirted runners goes by, he says, "I've got to catch up with Crampy," - a nickname earned and deserved.

"Rookie" was almost not the word I said to Sara. Ultrarunners refer to first timers as "virgins." But maybe that's socially incorrect (especially with someone you only met on a trail) particularly with her boy friend next to her. 

Dean Karnazes
At about mile seven a runner comes up on Emaad and me.  Emaad says "Hi, Dean," and as he does I recognize that the runner is legendary ultrarunner, race organizer and author Dean Karnazes.  His 2006 best seller, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, made him famous and popularized the sport - if you consider a sport whose largest events do not attract 1000 participants popular. But he is not just a celebrity, he's the real deal, with wins at Badwater 135 miles (2004) and the Vermont 100 milers (2006), and a four top ten finishes at Western States 100.

Remarkably Dean slows down to run with us for the next couple of miles. We chat like all trail runners do, about races we've done and what we have upcoming. Dean is going to Greece in September to run the Spartathlon, a 250K race from Athens to Sparta. He says the hardest part is the first 50 miles from Athens to Corinth, a distance of 50 miles that has a 9:30 cutoff. Apparently he isn't concerned about the 105 miles that follow that.  We tell him of our plans and discuss a 100 miler; he suggests trying a 24-hour race to get a flavor for it.

Dean Karnazes with me (mile 11)
We discuss the Washington pollen (predominately tree pollen at race time) and when I start coughing he offers me a gummy bloc to suck on to stop the coughing.  It works.

We ask if we can take pictures with him and he graciously agrees, so we stop to pose.  After awhile he says that while he would rather be running, he needs to get back to the start/finish in time to give out awards at 2 p.m. and takes off.  I guess that he ran the marathon distance between his duties at the start of the races and the awards ceremony.

How Old?
When we finish I go and check the results in the off chance I've won my age group, 65+.  The real time results show that I'm 3 of 3 so  that's that.  The next day I scan the complete results to see where I stood. One runner finished after me and the results have me listed as 3 of 4.  I search for the two ahead of me. The second place finisher is 66 and an hour ahead of me. I keep scrolling upward for the first place finisher and finally find him finishing 40th overall (35th male) about two and a half hours ahead of me. But what is most remarkable that his age is listed as 118.

I send an email to the timer: "I'm used to being beaten by people in my age group (65+), but not by the world's oldest man" identifying the unbelievable speed of the centenarian.  I n a few hours I get a response: "Ha...good catch :) This must have imported incorrectly, his birthday was entered in as born in 1901." Turns out he was 30, not 118, so I wound up 2 of 3.

Finish Details
Emaad and I run the last few miles together. At the finish we retrieve our drop bags, change shirts and go to get our post race meal.  Rather than have a meal line like in the previous years I did the race, there are four food trucks - pizza, fried fish/BBQ, halal and kabobs - each offering a number of offerings for your ticket.  I elect BBQ ribs while Emaad goes for the lamb and rice from the halal truck.  We take our food to the beer area and redeem our beer coupons for the offerings from Sierra Nevada. Then we buy a second beer to drink while talking to a husband and wife who (of course!) just finished their first 50K. He has done triathlons, and says this was harder. Leaving the beer garden I pick up a Sierra Nevada pen and Hop-N-Mint lip balm.

Swag: Shirt, Medal, Bib, Collapsible Cup, Finisher's Bottle, Pen, Lip Balm.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon - March 2, 2019

The good news - it's not raining on Saturday.  The bad news - the ground has been saturated for a month and it rained on Friday.  The takeaway - the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon & 50K promises to be a mudfest.  It will be a promise fulfilled.

Starting Out
Staying warm pre-race
(Photo by E. Burki)
I pick up Emaad and we drive the short distance to the park. After the inevitable, but brief, discussion of what to put in a drop bag, how many layers may be necessary, and other clothing choices, we walk the quarter mile or so from where we parked by the side of the road to the start where we pick up our bibs.  We go into the picnic pavilion where the post-race food and refreshments will be served and keep warm by the fireplace and propane space heaters.

We walk back to the start, exchange greetings with Don, Michele and Glenn, and others that we know. Someone sings the National Anthem and we are off down the park road, past the park cars for the turn onto the southbound trail.

Well-placed near the back-of-the-pack we are assured of a trail that where it is muddy, is well churned into a slippery brown amorphous mess.

The section of the Greenway Trail south- (or outbound) south of Riffle Ford Road and to Germantown Road stays in the bottomland near the creek and accordingly is particularly muddy. Michele splashes straight through the muck, explaining that trying to avoid it by running on the edges risks slipping of those sloped surfaces. There is great deal of logic to this, but nevertheless I try my best to stay out of that part of the mud. 

Glen, Emaad and I approaching Riffle Ford Road
(Photo by T. Bryant)
On the other side of Germantown Road the trail veers away from the creek to climb onto a ridge, until dropping down next to the creek approaching Black Rock Road at Black Rock Mill.  From there it is less than two miles to the aid station at Route 28 (mile 7.3) after another ridge climb through a pine grove.  We tell Don that since he us running the race we miss him being the aid station director for his particularly witty food themes and signs leading to the aid station. (See my report on the 2012 race for examples.)

More Mud
After getting the usual potato chips and cookies I head across the bridge to get to the Seneca Bluffs Trail to continue south.  By now, Emaad, Glen, Michele, Don and I are pretty much traveling together, sometimes leapfrogging each other or falling behind.  We are joined by Stephanie and Jon. We are not pack of young wolves. More like a gray wolf pack. Our average age is over 59. But we are still out here, playing in the mud.

One might suspect that the ridge trail, away from the creek would not be too muddy, but that is often not the case. The trail is on the side of the ridge, so drainage and seepage from the higher parts create plenty of water to make mud and there are a few places where intermittent streams contain water.

Cold Water
Approaching Dry Seneca Creek
(photo by E. Burki)
And then, after a particularly muddy stretch we crest a small rise, and make a left turn to the banks of the ironically named Dry Seneca Creek.  Perhaps when the creek was named in the 19th century it would get dry, but acres of paved surface from roads and development assure that there is water for it year-round. And Friday's rain has it full and fast flowing.

As we all stop to watch runners ahead crossing the creek, and get mentally prepared for it, I borrow a trekking pole from Stephanie to steady myself.  With my other hand I hold onto Michele for mutual support.  The water is just over my knee and moving swiftly. It is turbid and hard to tell what the footing is like from step to step. The trekking pole is useful for probing the way across.

Meanwhile Emaad is crossing while he is taking a selfie video of his crossing.  He slips but recovers. Don puts large trash bags on each leg but the water overtops the bags and he crosses the stream dragging the water-filled bags to the other side. He empties the bags on the other side.

The good part of the water crossing is that the mud has been wiped from our shoes, but the price we pay is how cold are feet are.  Don takes off, telling me that he has to run fast because of how cold his feet are.  He has a change of shoes and socks awaiting him in his drop bag at the Berryville aid station a mile or two ahead.

When Emaad and I reach River Road at mile 14, he says his sock has gotten creased under his toes and he sits to adjust it.  When he takes his shoe off there is nothing the matter with the sock.  Instead, there is a ball of mud under his toes.  He removes it and the problem is resolved.

Aid and More Aid
Emaad fords Hookers Branch (mile 15)
We cross over Seneca Creek on the River Road bridge and head up Seneca Road to the trail head for the Seneca Greenway Trail to go north.  Just before reaching it we come to a very unofficial aid station.  An organized runners group, which shall go unnamed to protect the not-innocent, is grilling quesadillas, and has the usual runner's choices of cookies and salty items.  But they are also offering beer, and for the cold, adventuresome or daring, liquor.  Later Don tells how he took advantage of the aid to warm his cold, numb toes with rum & coke and a beer chaser. I pass up the opportunity.

Chocolate-covered bacon 
at Berryville AS (mile 15)
After about a mile of up and down we come to Hookers Creek.  It isn't anywhere as high as Dry Seneca Creek.  I try to put plastic newspaper bags over my shoes, but they are too small to fit.  (Next time, try them on beforehand.) I pick a course over some rocks and shoals and manage to keep one foot dry.  Emaad, knowing he has dry shoes at the aid station 100 yards, ahead charges across the stream.

The Berryville Aid Station is well stocked, and in particular has chocolate-covered bacon.

Don and Emaad change shoes and socks, but I elect to keep going with my muddy ones.  As the next stretch runs along the creek,  mud is inevitable.

Sure enough, it is.  I'm starting to feel a bit weary from the slip-sliding in the slop. Emaad catches up to me good naturedly complaining that I had left him behind. On the other hand, he didn't have much trouble catching me.

Relentless Forward Progress (aka Death March)
We go on, through mud, slipping and sliding.  At one point there is a small rivulet to cross but I slip down the bank and wind up sitting on the sloppy bank.

The iconic deer skulls with holiday caps.
Soon enough we get back to the Route 28 aid station (mile 19.5). Emaad is waiting for a grilled cheese but I walk on ahead, having caught up to Michele.  I keep walking, Michele goes on ahead, and Emaad finally catches me at Black Rock Mill where we head onto the Seneca Ridge Trail. The 7.3 mile stretch between the Route 28 and Riffle Ford Road aid stations is seemingly interminable, with plenty of up and down.  We are pretty much alone and we trudge along, stopping to examine the deer skull display that has been trail side for years. (See the 2014 report for an picture of fewer of them at the time.)

A Choice Denied
As we plod along we debate our chances of making it to the decision point at mile 27.7 by the cutoff time. This is the time where one can either run about a quarter mile or so to the finish for the marathon (actually about 28 miles, not the traditional 26.2 mile marathon distance) or go around Clopper Lake for another 3 or 4 miles for the 50K.

Typical footing
Neither of us can remember what is the cutoff time, however.  We face an existential question - if we make it in our state, do we really want to spend another hour circling the lake in the mud? On the other hand, we don't want to have quitter's regret the next day. If we miss the cutoff, the decision is out of our hands.  We try to recall the cutoff time but cannot agree.  But what we do agree on is that we are increasingly unlikely to make it.

Finally we reach the Riffle Ford aid station, and volunteers tell us that we have missed the cutoff ahead. Actually, it isn't even a close call. We are at least 25 minutes late.  When we reach the decision in a half mile, volunteers point us toward the finish. They get no argument from us.

There are 119 50K and 115 marathon finishers. I finish in 7:56:22; Emaad is 8 seconds ahead of me. It was a tough day under hard conditions.  In February I was 75 minutes faster at the longer Pemberton Trail 50K.

Don makes the cutoff by 3 minutes and finishes the 50K in 8:39:50. Stephanie and Jon miss the cutoff by 5 minutes but the volunteers tell them they can go on anyway.  They decline, as they are giving a marathon runner a ride home and don't want to force her to wait for them and finish in 7:35:05. Michele finishes the marathon in 7:43:39 and Glen comes in at 8:28:19.
At the finish
(Photo by B. Jacobs)

Colby examines the swag:
Car magnet, plastic mug, bib

Monday, February 18, 2019

Pemberton Trails 50K - February 9, 2019


Emaad and I fly to Phoenix on Thursday evening for Saturday's Pemberton Trail 50K/25K. Our flight is delayed about an hour and it is a bit of a bumpy ride, but not too bad - although one passenger seems disturbed enough by it that there is a request for a "doctor on board" by the flight attendants.  Things calm down enough that there is no need to divert for a medical emergency.

We go to pick up our rental car, and upon walking to the assigned parking spot, find our intermediate car already occupied and getting ready to be driven away. Back at the counter the clerk asks us if a Camaro would be OK. Like dogs offered a bone we say yes before she can change her mind. Getting to the car is a bonus - it's a convertible! On the down side, there is next to no trunk space and the rear seats are seats in name only.

Image may contain: plant, sky, outdoor and nature
On the Dixie Mine Trail
Friday morning we go for a run on the Dixie Mine Trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park, the same area we will run on Saturday, but an entirely different trail. To get to the trailhead, we park in a parking area outside a gated community of $1.2 million+ houses, and follow the signs ("visitors, stay on the sidewalk") to the beginning of the trail.  It's rolling hills with fine views and only a few users.

Friday afternoon we wander about Old Town Scottsdale, ending up in the Goldwater Brewing Company.The beer is good and the patrons and staff friendly. We head to Sara's house to meet her and her friend Corina so we can head out for food and libations. She assures us that Corina is not an imaginary friend, as she frequently has promised to introduce us to her, but Corina was never available.

This time, though, Corina is there and we pile into Sara's car (the Camaro lacking space) and go to Loco Patron Brewery in time (barely) for happy hour. We share a number of appetizers: braised cauliflower, nachos, a giant pretzel and a couple of others.  Emaad and Sara share a pitcher (or two) of beer. I share a pitcher of margaritas with Corina. That's pretty good pre-race loading! After eating and drinking our fill we drop Corina off, return to Sara's for a brief visit, and return to our hotel in Fountain Hills.

Heroic pose at the start from the three friends
Race Day - First Loop
Both races start at the same time and place in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It's only about a 20 minute drive from our hotel to the race start, and since it is a small event (about 130 runners total) everyone gets to park within 100 yards of the start/finish line.  We get our bibs, return to the car for last minute preparations and then meet up with Sara.

Sara checks Emaad's (hydration system ) nipples
The temperature is in the mid to upper 30s at the 0700 start, so I decide to go with long and short sleeve shirts, a buff for my neck, gloves and a hat but shorts. Since I'll be running two loops I'll get back to my drop bag halfway through and can jettison anything that I no longer need.

Sara and Emaad and doing the one loop for the 25K but we all plan to run together, unless someone feels speedy or slow.

The race starts on time and we are off on the wide Pemberton Trail.  It is popular with mountain bikers and is mostly wide enough for bikes to pass in each direction, although there are some short stretches of single track.

By the end of the first mile we are greeting with a beautiful sunrise that drenches the mountains and desert in a golden hue. And as the sun rises so does the temperature and it isn't long before the gloves and buff come off. The sky stays a bit overcast so throughout the day temperatures don't get out of the low 60s, making for pleasant running conditions.

Sunrise in Mile 1.
The three of us enjoy the day, stopping to take pictures,  chatting about all sorts of things, and running a comfortable pace.  For some reason I have to stop four times to use the bushes, of which there are not many.  The course is gently rolling, with a gradual uphill the first third, mostly next flat the second third, and gently downhill the final third of what is a long loop in the part.  There are two aid stations, at about mile 5 and mile 11 of the 15.5 mile loop.  There is a sign announcing that the second aid station is "just ahead" but we start to wonder if we have gone off course when we don't get to it.  Finally we see it, refuel and run the rest of the loop to the start finish.

Around mile 4.
Loop Two
We finish the first 15.5ish mile loop (it is a trail run; if you want precise distance, go run on roads) in 3:13. I bid goodbye to Emaad and Sara, dispose of my long sleeve shirt and gloves in my drop bag and discover that I have lost my buff (from the 2015 Madrid Marathon). I figure I may find it on the second loop.

On my own now, it's time for me to find some runners to join and chat with.  Within the first couple of miles I come upon Becky and Lexie. They are local runners  running their second Pemberton Trails 50K. When they look back to see me I repeat one of my favorite lines from Satchel Paige, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."

A beat passes. "You don't know who Satchel Paige is, do you?" I ask.

The 32- and 28-year old pair reply in the negative.

Stay on Pemberton. Dixie Mine Trail was so yesterday.
 I tell them the story of the fabled Negro League pitcher who finally got to pitch in the Major Leagues in 1948 and who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971.

We run along together for awhile but I start to lag behind and then stop to take pictures. I can see them ahead, but it is pretty clear to me that I won't be catching them.

Shortly thereafter, before getting to the first aid station, I get passed first by one, then by a second, and finally a third, runner, going at a blistering pace.  A little ways ahead they slow to a walk and I catch up with them.

Looking east from the Pemberton Trail.
Rob, Carter and Grant are cross-fit athletes running their first ultra. The latter two are in their early 20s while Rob is the 38-year old owner of a gym.  They are executing a run a half-mile, walk a quarter mile plan.  The two younger runners are fast and walk slowly while waiting for Rob to catch up. In the meantime, my steady plodding pace allows me to catch them during their walks.  I joke that I'm the tortoise to their hares.

Once they find out that I've run ultras before they start to ask questions, particularly what to eat at aid stations. As I take each item, I tell them, "Some Pringles, a couple of chocolate chip cookies and some M&Ms. Take them and go."

Jackass Junction
They linger a bit, but soon enough jet past me, and we resume our leapfrogging, but it seems that they are gradually getting ahead on each cycle.

I pause at Jackass Junction, a shelter with a bicycle tool repair station. A friendly rider agrees to take my picture.

A bit further along I come across a runner whose stopped by the side of the trail.  I ask and he tells me that he is cramping up and not doing well.  I offer him salt capsules and he takes two.

By then I'm thinking that I can finish in under 7 hours.  It's my stretch goal, with a 7:15 -7:30 finish my base goal. But having run the first loop in 3:13 has me well positioned. I am only six minutes slower the second time on the stretch between the start line and the first aid station. Now I'm looking for the sign for the second aid station. But it is nowhere in sight.  I'm feeling that I'm losing a lot of time in the second section to the second aid station. Finally I spot the sign and shortly thereafter the aid station. Someone had moved the sign closer to the aid station.

Broad trail easily shared with mountain bikers.
At the aid station I catch up to Rob, Carter and Grant. I'm getting excited about finishing in under 7. I'm only 8 minutes slower the second time over the segment between the first and second aid station, and I know that the final segment to the finish is gently downhill and eminently runnable.

"Horse smells the barn!" I say as I pass Carter and Grant on one of our leapfrogging cycles.  "What's that mean?" they ask. I explain.

In another cycle I get to repeat the Satchel Paige line, and then give the Satchel Paige history lesson.

I'm feeling pretty good. After all, if a marathon is just a 10K following a 20-mile warm-up, then a 50K is just a 5-miler following a marathon warm-up. I'm even thinking I can negative split the final segment.

A male runner goes by in the opposite direction wearing a pink knit pussy hat.  One of my trio of leap-frogging trail friends notes it but in a way that clearly indicates he has no idea of its backstory.  Neither do the others. They want to know the meaning, but it presents a delicate moment. Politics is often a topic best left off the trail, especially with new-found friends, particularly ones who you don't know their beliefs. I explain the derivation of the hat as factually and as neutrally as I can. The instructional moment over, all of us get back to running.

With less than a mile to go, I realize that sub-7 hours is assured and I back off a bit. And maybe I'm getting a bit tired. Grant and Carter slow down until Rob catches up with them and they take off  in another of their tempo splits.

Finish and Results
At the finish
I cross the line in 6:41:05, good for 57 of 69 overall; 34 of 40 male; and 4 of 5 in my age group.  I'm the oldest finisher (by four years!). Rob, Carter and Grant finish two minutes ahead of me, with Becky and Lexie 30 seconds behind them.  I'm five seconds short of negative splitting the last segment, but that's not significant. The race director hands me the finishers' award - a first - a pen.

I get the next-to-last slice of - now cold - pizza. I pass on having a Bud Light. The cramping runner finises and thanks me for the salt tablets. He gets the last slice of cold pizza. Emaad returns to pick me up and after a shower we go to a near-by sports bar for a beer. After the beer, he gets a cup of coffee.  I celebrate my finish by adding a shot of Southern Comfort.

It's a good day for women runners. Canadian Ailsa Macdonald wins the race outright, setting a new woman's course record by nearly six minutes, while beating last year's winner and the first male, Justin Lutick, by 17 minutes. Women take eight of the top 13 places overall. Seven women finish under five hours; only five men do.

Swag: Shirt, bib, finisher's pen and
 piece of quartz from the trail.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Rosaryville Veterans' Day 50K - November 10, 2018

Emaad shows up at my door on time, I drive up the block and we pick up Gayatri for the uneventful drive to Rosaryville State Park for the eponymously named Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K put on by the Annapolis Striders.

This is Emaad’s first Rosaryville race, but Gayatri and I are both distinguished veterans – of the race that is. It is her fourth Rosaryville, which includes an age group win, and my seventh, with two age group wins.

As always, bib pick-up is easy, and we get our obligatory Rosaryville runner’s premium, a hat. We fiddle about with what to put in our drop bags, which we will get to at the end of the first and second of the three loops of the course.

After a nice a capella rendition of the National Anthem we walk the few yards to the start, and at 8 a.m. we are sent off on a cool morning.

First Lap
Emaad and are well toward the rear of the approximately 140 starters, and in no hurry. After about three quarters of a mile on the paved park road, we turn onto the perimeter trail to begin our first loop.
About to start
I run with Emaad for a couple of miles and then decide that the pace is slower than I’m comfortable with so I go on. I fall in with a woman and we get to chatting as is usual the case in ultras, particularly toward the back of the pack. It is her first ultra and one of her first trail runs.  But it turns out that she is no rookie when it comes to endurance events – she is an Ironman (Ironwoman?) competitor. She explains to me the strategies and her experiences of the swim and the rules governing wet suits. She tells me the rules governing drafting during the bicycling phase and how they don’t really apply when there is the equivalent of a peloton. She plans to go back to the Virgin Islands for an ironman in January. It is unfinished business, as she DNF’d at it a year or two ago.  She describes how the bike part of the race is hard, as it goes uphill and then gets steeper and steeper at each switchback.  When to get off the bike to walk up the steeper hills is an important consideration, because waiting too long does not provide enough time to unclip the cycling shoe before the bicycle falls over.
The "abandoned aid station" in the first half of the loop
At one point I trip and tumble over, but execute a nice 360 degree roll to the right and suffer no injury.
Cross the Bridge
(photo by Jon Valentine)
We go thru the first aid station in 1:05. It’s about midway through the loop and I figure that a good pace will be to add about 5 minutes to each segment.  Rain a couple of days before affected the footing on the course but has raised the water levels in the two streams on the course. The first is easy enough to cross with no problem but the second has no place for much of a running start and a steep muddy bank on the other side. I wind up stepping in the cold water. After a few seconds of reflection I shake off any negative thoughts about it, knowing that it will dry out in a bit.

At the mid-loop aid station manned by Middie volunteers. Go Navy!
Second Lap
I pass through the aid station at the end of the first loop in 1:07 from the first aid station. I’m pleased that I’m pretty much on target timewise.  I refill my bottle, decide to skip a visit to my drop bag and quickly go on my way.
I catch up with experienced ultrarunner Caroline, who has nearly 200 ultras to her credit, including July’s Vermont 100 miler.  She is always upbeat and seems most cheerful when on the course. We run along together chatting amicably. And surprisingly we reach the midway aid station in 1:03. I get a pierogi and a refill. That’s a pleasant surprise and we go on.

This loop I navigate the stream crossing with no problem and get to the aid station in 1:14. I get some potato chips and cookies, then decide that I need to use the portapotty. This is definitely sub-optimal sequencing, but I manage a balancing act. Then I go to my drop bag to discard my hat and gloves.

Third Loop
I head out to catch up with Caroline. As I do I start to get an idea. It’s more like a message in fact. My watch indicates that I got thru the first two loops in 4:29. So maybe, a voice tells me, I can finish in under seven hours. I try to do the arithmetic but I can’t get it to compute.  Instead, I decide that 1:10 to the final aid station is what I need. Given that the last segment was 1:14 that may be ambitious. I kick up the pace tell Caroline as I pass that I’m on a mission from God.  I repeat the line as I pass several other runners. Getting to the aid station in 1:03 affirms that I’ve got a chance.
And then, confusion brings me to a halt. There is a tree down across the trail. No tree was there in the first or second loop and I stop thinking that I’ve gone off course. I look back to see if I can spot ribbons marking the course and start to backtrack. Another runner comes along and assures me and a couple of more runners that we are going the right way, and that the winds during the day have brought the tree down.
Rusting farm equipment in the second half of the loop
At the stream crossing I avoid the water but step in the mud on the other side. A runner passes by just splashing through the water, and I congratulate him on making the better choice.

At the end of the loop I chirp a “Go Navy” to the midshipmen directing the runners left onto the road to the finish. They respond with the appropriate “Beat Army.”
The "Scary Baby on a Bike" shrine
The final three quarters of a mile is up the same road that we started off on. But it is mostly a long uphill and even though it is not particularly steep it is uphill and feels more uphill than it felt downhill at the start of the race. Having looked at my watch I know that I can walk it in if I need to – and I walk most of the way. But on the final fifty yards, uphill of course, I toss my bottle away and run to and across the finish.

My seventh RVD50K finish
(photo by Jon Valentine)
One of the finish line workers gives me my finisher’s medal and says she thinks I’m the first in my age group to cross the line.  I’m a bit surprised but that sounds like unexpected good news. Race director Tom comes up to me and asks if I’m Robert Gensler. I tell him who I am and he then recognizes me from my previous finishers. Robert was the age group winner, a comfortable 28 minutes ahead of me.

Swag: Hat, medal and bib
End Details
I spot Gayatri in the pavilion at the finish. She dropped after two laps.  I walk to the next parking lot and bring the car back while we wait for Emaad to finish. He finishes in 7:23. Caroline, who finished in 7:07, joins us and we carpool to Bojangles for the traditional post-Rosaryville meal.

I finish in 6:50:12, 2 of 3 in my age group, 63 of 77 males and 104 of 137 overall.

Seven years worth of Rosaryville hats

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 13859 of 20613, 8077 of 11010 males, 95 of 218 in my age M65-69 group.

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