Friday, October 31, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon - October 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Black Hills 100K - June 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No DNF. No DOA.  We finished.  Success.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Age Group Award

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

TNF Endurance Challenge Washington 50M - June 7, 2014

Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
- The Bug, Mary Chapin Carpenter

I spent weeks dreading the TNF Endurance Challenge Washington 50 Miler.  I had done the TNF 50K in 2012 and 2013 so I knew the course and knew how the weather could be hot and humid, the course as muddy as a swamp, poison ivy lurking by the side of the trail, three loops in Great Falls, and some long stretches between aid stations.  Oh, and it started at 5 a.m.

But Jennifer said that we it was a good training run for Black Hills 100K three weeks later so I dutifully signed up.  But I would have been happy doing the 50K.  My bare bones training therom is that if you can do half the distance, you can do the whole distance.  And since I had already suffered through Bull Run Run 50 Miler and wasn't feeling the need for another day of agony.

But Jennifer had had to withdraw from BRR because of an injury and I also knew that she was right - we both needed another long run to prepare for Black Hills.  And the hills and heat could help us acclimate to what what we have coming on June 28.

Dawn rises thru the mist
Jennifer picks me up at 4 a.m. and we get to Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling,VA with just enough time to hand in our drop bags and be ready for the 5 a.m. start.  The eastern sky is beginning to lighten but it is just dark enough to require head or hand lights for the first 15 or 20 minutes of the race. As a result we carry our lamps for the next three hours until we reach our drop bags at Great Falls.  Starting the race 15 or 30 minutes later would eliminate the need for lights.
The 15 miles to Great Falls is reasonably uneventful.  There is a bit of mud in some stretches, a stream crossing where the alternative is to try to shimmy along a fallen tree with the aid of a rope and some somewhat slippery descents.

Jennifer moving along outbound
I entertain Jennifer with a comprehensive description of our recent roadtrip through the South on the way to a wedding in New Orleans - Knoxville and Mobile outbound, Memphis, Nashville and Kentucky homeward bound.  Perhaps entertain is not the proper verb; subject might be more appropriate.  At one point while discussing the proper way to make a Pimms Cup a English runner joins our discussion.

I discuss my recent attendance at the Montana State Society's Tenth Annual Testicle Festival, Nuttin' Better, featuring "all the Rocky Mountain Oysters, beer, Crown Royal and live country music you can handle." Unfortunately the line for the delicacy is long and I only had one helping.  Fortunately, the line for the Crown Royal did not suffer the same drawback.

Jennifer tells how on the South Dakota farm on which she grew up they simply tossed the bull testicles to the waiting farm dogs who devoured them without needing them sliced, breaded and fried.

After my problems at the BRR 50 miler in April I'm paying close attention to hydration.  I'm wearing my Nathan hydration pack and being vigilant to take a Succeed and a gel every hour.  It is a routine that I maintain throughout the day.  And since the aid stations are stacked with gels keeping supplied with them is easy.

Loopy in Great Falls  
Upon entering Great Falls we access our drop bags.  We will be back to them three more times, once at the end of each 6.9 loop in the park before we head back toward Algonkian.  Since there is an additional aid station in the park, I trade the Nathan for a handheld bottle as the backpack is hot.  I also change into one of the two shirts I've put in the bag.

Posing on the trail in Great Falls
Describing the Great Falls section as a loop is an oversimplification.  It has three separate out and back tendrils, as well as a figure eight in the middle of the three tendrils.  While it sounds complicated it is well marked and course marshaled and confusion is at a minimum.  While a bit hilly, the park's paths are wide and sharing them with hikers and park visitors is not a problem.

Jennifer takes a tumble in the park, landing on her right shoulder.  She acquires some dirt but does not break the skin.  But she picks up a slight pull or strain in her right leg, and that bothers her the remainder of the day.

Returning to the drop bags at the end of the first loop, I change to the second shirt and leave the other shirt hanging out of the bag to dry.

The second loop is uneventful, but the day is starting to warm a bit, and we are a bit slower than on the first loop.

On the third loop a runner coming from the opposite direction on one of the out and backs points out a three foot long snake crossing the path. Runners in both directions stop to allow the creature to cross.  Jennifer identifies it as a rat snake.

 Back to the drop bags at the end of the third loop I put on the now-dry shirt from the first loop.  I think about donning the camelback for the return as the distance to the next aid station is nearly five miles and I'm concerned about running out of water before getting there.  I decide that the risk is outweighed by the additional sweating from wearing it and I elect to stick with the handheld.

The Potomac under a pretty sky later in the day
As we head out of Great Falls on the return leg, I'm feeling pretty good. In fact, I'm fairly giddy experiencing an absurd runner's high. My mind knows that we still have nearly 15 miles to go, but the spirit is energized and I'm enjoying it.

Jennifer, on the other hand, isn't feeling 100 percent.  Her tumble has bothered her leg and she is battling a bit of a cold that is sapping her strength.  Furthermore, she may be getting a bit dehydrated. I give her a Succeed and the salt helps her retain water and rehydrate. (To non-runners this may sound counter-intuitive, but it is sound science and avoids developing potentially deadly hyponatremia.) While she generally prefers that I lead on the single track sections (let the slow guy set the pace) we switch places so that she doesn't have to over-exert herself in case I try to pick up the pace in my elated state.

Not only does this strategy work well, but she has enough energy that we slowly and relentlessly pass other runners ahead of us.

We leapfrog with one runner who missed a turn early in the race and ran two extra miles because of his mistake.  As we loop around a field I suggest that he can take a shortcut across it because of his extra miles but he makes the appropriate choice and stays on the course.

Sure enough, my water bottle approaches empty with still a ways to go to the Carwood aid station at mile 41. Fortunately the weather, while warm, hasn't gotten too hot and I am able to nurse it along to the aid station.

Jennifer has pretty much used up her reserves by now.  We do a fair amount of walking.  At the stream crossing she stands in the cool water and uses the small cloth she carries to sponge off a bit.

I continue to have a good day.  Even the last hill we climb isn't a problem.  The combination of sticking with the schedule of Succeeds and gels, combined with somewhat lower temperatures than at BRR and a less hilly course have combined for a nice day of running.
We get to Sugarland, the final aid station at mile 47, and I check my pace card. We are still under a 12-hour finishing pace, but Jennifer is running now on fumes and we walk more and more.  But finally the finish line approaches and we run in the last quarter mile, finishing in 12:10:40.

The post-race food perks us up and we are soon heading home so that Jennifer can get to Strathmore Music Center for a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Turns out to have been a windshield day.

Swag: Shirt, socks, medal and bib
Age Group Winner
After we finish we claim our shirts and I go to the headquarters tent to inquire about my age group.  Having looked over the list of registered runners I am pretty confident that I know the outcome, and the race official confirms that I have one my age group.  While she doesn't say it, I'm also last in the age group, because I'm the only one in it.  Had there been a prize for oldest finisher I would have won that as well, but there isn't.  

When I get home I promptly list the Handheld Hydrator for sale on eBay - as with much running paraphernalia, I already have two.
Age Group Winner's Prize: TNF Handheld Hydrator,
two gels and a free shipping coupon

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bull Run Run 50 Miler - April 12, 2014

No Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy
The 2014 Bull Run Run promised to be a battle for slowest team between two time champion MCRRC Absolute Zeroes and Team Vilambitagati, successor to last year's defending champion Team Rocket.  But to add to the over- and mis-use of the oft paraphrased version of the quote from von Moltke the Elder, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." If the enemy can be terrain and weather, then BRR would be a testing ground for the aphorism.

At 4:50 a.m., I drive Mark, Barry, and Gayatri, three of the four members of the opposing team out to Hemlock Overlook for the start of the race.  The weather promises to be on the warm side, and with a late winter, the trees have not begun to leaf out.  I decide to start with shorts and a long-sleeve shirt, and change to short sleeves upon the return to Hemlock at mile 16.  I plan to take a Succeed salt/electrolyte capsule every hour and consume a gel every 45 minutes to replace salts lost through sweat and to keep up energy.

After a nice a cappella rendition of the National Anthem, we start promptly at 6:30 a.m.  Fellow Team Zero member Larry and I start off together and chat about the weather, clothing and our chances to reclaim our slowest team title and win yet another championship blanket.  Light showers Friday night have softened parts of the trail and created some small muddy areas, but the streams are not high and footing is good.  Larry trots on ahead.

Deflated Easter Bunny at the Turnaround
Diabolical Sibling Torture
One of the pleasures of trail running is getting to meet and chat with folk you might not otherwise meet.  Since you are going to be out there for hours stories help pass the time of day.

I run awhile with -  let's call her 'Jane' to honor the "what's said on the trail, stays on the trail" rule. She came some distance to the race with some friends but is going to stay a day or two in DC while the friends go home after the race.  Her younger brother is going to pick her up.

I ask if she has been nice to him growing up.  In response, she tells the following story.

When she was 15 and he was about to have his sixth birthday, she told him that on the sixth birthday, boys turn into girls and girls turn into boys.  "I don't wanna be a girl," her brother moaned. "Girls are icky."  She tells him he doesn't have a choice.  And she tells him the girl name she has picked out for him.

The bluebells were late this year
On his birthday he wakes up with trepidation and glances down.  He's still a boy! Bravely he tells her that he didn't believe her.

"You don't turn into a girl when you wake up," she smugly replies. "It happens when you blow out the candles on your birthday cake."

When the time comes and the cake arrives, he breaks into tears. Mom, figuring something isn't quite right, puts an end to the diabolical fun.

[Alternate ending: The brother blew out the candles, turned to 'Jane' and smartly said, "My birthday wish to remain a boy was granted." But he didn't. He was only 6.]

Fooling Around Crossing Pope Creek
(Photo by Bob Fabia)
In the Presence of Giants
On the way back to Hemlock I catch up with BRR legend Tom Green.  He's one of only three men who have finished all 21 previous BRRs.  The week before he had run the Umstead 100 Miler, his second 100 miler of the year.  I tell him that one reason that I don't want to run a 100 is that I don't want to see the sun rise a second time.  He tells me that seeing the sun rise the second time is actually energizing.  He also reveals that he takes a 90 minute nap during the night.  Maybe running a 100 isn't so bad, I start thinking.

Crossing Little Rocky Run
(Photo by Mike Bur)
Tom also tells how during Umstead he was passing a woman runner and her pacer during the night.  "How are you doing," he asks her in greeting.  She bursts into tears, saying that it is her first 100 miler and she is tired and exhausted and doesn't think she can make the 30 hour cutoff.  Tom, who has run over 40 100-milers and numerous 24-hour events, tells that he "pulled out all his motivational tricks" to help her.  He tells her that she is a lap ahead of him (Umstead is eight laps of a 12.5 mile course) and that he is going to make the cutoff, that she only has a lap and half to go, and that running at night is the hardest but with seven hours gone she only has three hours of darkness to go. "I only saw one women DNF later," he says, "and it wasn't her."

Just then we catch up with Tim Stanley, the second of the three finishers of all the BRRs to date.  Tim had tried to withdraw from the race because of a painful medical condition, but the other legends of  the race have persuaded him to come out and at least start.  Tim will go the 16 miles out from Hemlock, through the bluebells (few in bloom because of the late winter) and back to Hemlock before ending his streak at 21 finishes.

Tom tells us that 2014 may be his 100-miler final tour - he has six more planned through the summer. He says that running 24 hour races are becoming more attractive to him - "you can finish them by sitting in a chair the last hour if you wish," he jokes.

Approaching Hemlock the first time.
No running there the second time.
(Photo by James Williams)
Implement the Plan
Back at Hemlock I change my shirt and contemplate whether to switch from my handheld water bottle to the higher capacity backpack, or add a belt with a second water bottle.  Either would assure that I won't run low of fluids as the day is warming up and I drinking a lot but at the cost of being hotter and sweating more from wearing them.  I decide that the remaining aid stations are close enough together, 5 to 5.5 miles are the most, to stick with the handheld only.  A bigger problem is with gels.  Without the backpack I don't have enough pockets to carry all the gel I need to implement my plan.  It isn't optimal but I decide that I will rely on food at the aid stations to make up the difference.

Heading out I grab some bacon and cheese pierogis.  I hold the bacon in front of me and pretend to chase it to the amusement of the spectators.  All goes well to the Marina aid station (mile 21) where volunteers are handing out wash cloths dunked in ice cold water. It feels great on the head and I soak the blue washcloth I brought with me to bring along. Paper cups with bright red maraschino cherries are a nice treat along with salty beef jerky.

The day continues to warm up.  I remember to take a Succeed every hour, but I've messed up the schedule for the gels and can't remember when I took one last.  Finally I set a timer on my watch to remember for me.

Christmas Came Early at Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station
Wolf Run Shoals aid station (mile 26) is Christmas-themed this year.  I ask to meet the naughty elf but am told she is not there.  More wet towels.

In two miles I'm at the Fountainhead aid station and the drill is now familiar.  Get the cold, wet towels, wipe down, refill the water bottle, soak the blue washcloth and head out into the White Loop.  I put the dripping cloth on my head to both cool off and to provide some cover for the head.  Stephanie, the fourth member of Team Vilambitagati passes me looking relaxed.

Approaching Fountainhead outbound.
I didn't look so good on the way back.
 (Photo by Hai Nguyen)

In 4.4 miles I reach the beginning of the Do Loop. Once in the loop one no longer has to see runners headed back toward the finish while still headed out. I comment to a runner running his second BRR after a break of a couple of year about the crew teams we can see on the water.  He tells me about crewing at Villanova and I tell him about daughter Hilary crewing at LaSalle.  Somehow the conversation turns to mortality and he tells me about how he had had a heart attack years before while lying in bed.  The surgeon told him that he survived because his heart was strong from running.  Later I recall that I had met the same runner in almost exactly the same place in 2011 and he told me the same story.

Back to the Do Loop aid station (mile 35) I eye the pizzas but don't feel hungry.  I'm down to one gel but someone points out that a runner had left some extras behind.  The choices are peanut butter or unflavored.  Neither sound good but I take a peanut butter one.  The heat is starting to wear on me.  Not feeling hungry has progressed to vague nausea.

The Mind Quits Before the Body
Slowly fading away in the Do Loop
Plenty of walking gets me back to Fountainhead (mile 38).  This is the point where the race usually gets tough for me, but now I'm already in bad shape.  I sit in a chair and volunteers bring me wet towels.  I'm not at all hungry at the same time I realize that I'm running out of energy.  The aid station captain tells me that I am about 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff time if I want rest.  I sit for 20 minutes thinking whether to quit or to go on.

Mark comes in to the aid station and I decide to go with him and push on to the next aid station 2 miles away.

We go together a bit and then he simply runs away.  I struggle up the hill to the Wolf Run Shoals aid station (mile 40) and flop into a chair. I can barely talk. An elf brings me a cup of coke and refills my bottle.  The workers start to disassemble the decorations in preparation to shutting it down.  Santa comes over to talk to me.  I tell him I'm thinking of quitting. "You can't quit here," he says. "We don't have a cutoff."  I tell him I have a phone and can quit if I want.  Santa insists that I can make it to the Marina aid station 5 miles further along.  He introduces me to other runners who have arrived at the aid station and tells them that I will be going with them.  He tells me that I can finish and that he will be there to greet me.  He puts Succeeds and Tums in my pill case.

It was a hot day . . .
After 8 to 10 minutes of sitting, somehow I get up and move out. A small strand of remembrance that the mind quits before the body might have been the difference.

A bit down the trail I take the Tums and the Succeed.  They are like a miracle drug.  The nausea vanishes.  I can run again.  I try to follow a woman running and I can't keep up with her on the downhills, but I make it up on the flats.  I catch and pass Larry for the second or third time of the day.

Approaching Marina an aid station worker is walking toward me.  He tells me they had been told of a runner who was struggling. "That was me," I reply, "Feel much better now."

A Tradition Like No Other
I reach Marina in 12:13, seventeen minutes ahead of the cutoff.  Tom Green is sitting there getting ready for his final push. I have 1:47 minutes to go the final 5.5 miles.  That's just under 20 minutes a mile, pretty much a walking pace, or it is on a flat surface.  I can run some and do so where the course is flat.  But there is one long climb and progress is slow.  I take out the peanut butter gel and try to force myself to eat it.  A small taste is all I can manage before I squeeze the rest out on the ground and put the empty packet in my pocket.

I move along fairly well.  Tom Green catches me and I use him to set the pace.  Finally we reach the long steep hill that climbs to the finish.  We start to walk up it but I'm running out of strength again and stop to gather some strength. Tom stops.  I resume and have to stop again.  Tom stops to wait but I tell him to go on.  I start again but nausea wells up from my stomach.  I bend over, but stay on my feet.  The second bout of nausea finally discharges my stomach.  I go a few more steps and sit on a log.  I'm terribly tired.  More nausea and finally my stomach is empty.  Larry comes by and offers to wait.  I tell him to go on.  Another runner waits with me.

This is the third time in six BRRs that I have vomited on that hill.  My own little tradition.  After about a minute I feel revived and we walk toward the finish. Rounding the corner that brings the finish in sight the two of us start to run.  I finish in 12:47:06, less than 13 minutes before the 13 hour cutoff for official finishers but good enough to log my sixth consecutive BRR finish, 264th of 272 finishers. Santa, now in civilian clothes, is there to greet me.  With my stomach empty, I enjoy an Orange Crush and a hot dog prepared by the volunteers.

Both MCRRC Absolute Zeroes and Team Vilambitagati were disqualified: for us because Caroline had to drop after 16 miles because of a pre-existing knee injury and Jim finished over the 13 hour cutoff; for them Barry unfortunately missed the Do Loop and was disqualified (read his report) and Gayatri missed a cutoff.

Tom Green not only finished his 22nd BRR, but he was on the winning slowest team. Gary Knipling and Frank Probst became the first 70 year-olds to finish the race, and Frank kept pace with Tom as now the only two runners to have finished all 22 BRRs.
Swag: Shirt, Finishers' Beach Towel,
Winning Side BRR Magnet, Reusable Cup, Bib

Friday, April 4, 2014

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K - March 8, 2014

Miles and Miles of Mud
 A Tale of True Grit or Epic Stubbornness
We admire perseverance. The epic quest; the strength of will to go on in the face of insurmountable odds; the struggle to succeed when the odds of success are approaching zero. We also admire adaptability. The realization that conditions are not what we expected and react accordingly; to stop doing what is not working and live to fight another day; the change of plan that averts disaster. Both are admirable but mutually exclusive. We are selective in our praise, choosing the label that suits the successful outcome. George Mallory was foolish; Edmund Hillary was adaptable. Custer was dashing at Gettysburg and reckless at Little Big Horn. The frontal assaults at Fredericksburg were a tragic and futile loss of Union lives; Thomas' assault at Missionary Ridge a brilliant matter of perseverance by the Union troops. The story of the 2014 Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K is a story of either admirable perseverance or a lack of adaptability. I'll tell what happened, or at least as I saw it and leave it to you to judge.

No mud early on
Starting Out
I pick Jennifer up and we drive up to Damascus Regional Park, where the race ends.  On the way she tells me about her misadventures two days earlier when she took took of her children to Whitetail for a day of skiing and snowboarding.  Although she had never done either she first attempted snowboarding and wound up falling backward.  Even wearing a helmet, she said, she had never hit her head so hard. Also, her back was hurting from the fall.  Having decided that snowboarding was too difficult she switched over to skiing and promptly managed to fly over a berm on the side of the course, get airborne and wind up in some bushes.She tells me she waited until Friday to let me know that she was going to run.

We park, meet up with friends and board the bus that takes us to the start at Poole's Store, where River Road crosses Seneca Creek.  It seems like a long ride. But then again, it is a long ride.

Starting at Poole's Store makes the course about 0.6 mile shorter than in the previous year, when the race began at the old stone mill down Tschiffley Mill Road.  That's a nice concession, as the course is notoriously long, and even shortened still exceeds 50K.

The day is nearly perfect for running, a bit cool, partly sunny and no precipitation in the forecast. But snow earlier in the week, followed by some rising temperatures promises to make for some tricky footing.

But things go smoothly on the trail at the start. It's single track and Jennifer and I are toward the rear where there is plenty of walking as runners gradually sort themselves out by pace.  We pass some folks when we can and make way for others.

The trail is a bit snow covered but the footing is generally decent.  The steep slope at the crossing over the creek at Berryville Road is slick but we manage it without incident. From there we move along nicely.  While the trial has some snow on it and is chewed up a bit by the runners ahead of us, it is in surprisingly good shape.  Even the section south of Route 28 which is a bit low-lying does not have the mud that many of us feared.

Arriving at the Route 28 Aid Station I take off my outer shirt.  I've already shed my hat and gloves.  Spotting Meghan C. who is crewing for Michelle P. I ask her if she would be willing to take them so that I don't have to carry them.  She graciously agrees.

Approaching Black Rock Mill
(Photo by Dan DiFonzo)
Jennifer Runs at Black Rock Mill
 (Photo by Dan DiFonzo)
The stretch between Route 28 and Black Rock Mill goes up and down hill and the snow is now getting slushy and slippery.  Footing is getting tricky and one has to be careful especially on the downhills to not get out of control.

At Black Rock Mill we are directed onto the Seneca Ridge Trail.  It will take us up the hills to the west of Seneca Creek, promising drier footing than if we stay on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail to the next aid station at Riffle Ford Road. On the other hand, it is a bit longer than the alternative.

As we go along we fall in with Tom G. an extraordinary runner with more than 170 ultras to his credit.  He and Jennifer trot along as I stop to use the, uh, facilities available to all ultrarunners, then to take some pictures.

They chat about home improvements as Tom does that kind of work and Jennifer is a one-woman work crew at her house.  She even took and passed the City of Rockville electrical test to do her own wiring.
Holiday skulls

Tom goes on and Jennifer and I settle into a pattern of running and walking but she is going slower than usual.  As we climb up a steep bank following a stream crossing she gives a yelp from pain emanating from her back.

Time for Drugs
She gives up more of the story how on Friday she had back pain, nausea and was "just not feeling right." Friday night she rummaged around in the medicine cabinet, and took some prescription medications (not her own) that relieved the pain and helped her sleep.  She tells me that her back has pain radiating from her posterior and that she is feeling not herself.  With that she reaches into her pocket and takes a Tylenol 3 for the pain.

After 20 minutes or so she asks me for a gel.  The Tylenol 3 is giving her stomach pains and she hope that the gel, something that she usually avoids, will settle it down.  Fortunately it does.

When we get to Riffle Ford Road there is no aid station even though there was supposed to be one.  I didn't fill my water bottle at the Route 28 aid station or even at the unofficial one at Black Rock Mill and now I'm out of water; never a good situation. Post-race inquires lead to no explanation as to why it wasn't there or why runners were not told that it would not be there.

Jennifer has a snack approaching Clopper Lake
The Tylenol 3 is starting to work as Jennifer is able to clown around to pretend to gnaw at a tree. But our pace is definitely slowing and I'm concerned that we won't make it to Clopper Lake by the cutoff to start the loop around the lake for the 50K.  It is announced as 11:30 a.m. and I get there right about then or a minute or two later with Jennifer a minute or two behind.

It is clear to me that Jennifer is suffering.  Normally she is excellent on uphills, but today she trudges up the hill to the lake.  Given the time I ask her if she wants to just do the marathon (in actuality, about 29 miles rather than 26.2).  But she insists that she has to do the 50K, both because she has arranged childcare for the day and for training for our upcoming 50 milers and the Black Hills 100K that we are doing on June 28.

So into the loop we go even though it is after 11:30.  The race has traditionally been fairly liberal with its rules and later we learn that because of the adverse footing, the cutoff has been extended to 12 noon.  By now the snow on the trail is pretty much gone and has been replaced with thick mud that alternately grabs at one's shoes or causes one to slip and slide.

Clopper Lake from the Dam after Circumnavigating it
Done with the loop we head toward the next aid station at Route 355.  Jennifer is pretty much plodding on, running some and walking a lot.  I am able to stop in order to send a tweet ("Done with Clopper and headed toward 355, mud, runoff and occasional ice making my hip a bit sore.") and easily catch up to her.

At the 355 aid station (mile 21), Rebecca and Gayatri are waiting.  They have decided to drop out and An is there to gather them up.  Despite her deteriorating condition there is no hesitation from Jennifer about going on.

By now the course is all mud. It is wet mud when the trail is near the creek, and wet mud when going uphill or downhill.  I embrace the day, tweeting at 1:36 p.m., "Past 355 at 21 miles. No longer bothered by the slop. Its kinda fun in a kids way."  In fact, given that the mud is unavoidable there really isn't anything to do about it.  Might as well enjoy it.
Sock adjustment

But Jennifer is beyond enjoyment.  She is pretty much reduced to walked.  Any attempt to run causes back pain. At one point I ask her how she is doing and her eyes well up.  I've never seen her lose her composure like that and it is frightening.

Furthermore, I'm convinced that she suffered a concussion two days earlier.  She said that when she fell it felt like someone hit her in the head with a baseball bat.  While she claims that she never passed out, she admits that she has no recollection of the fall. And she has been feeling nauseous and 'funny' Friday and now today.

Dirty Girl
A woman passes us with her back covered in mud.  She tell me that she has fallen twice.  She is not the only person we see who has had a close encounter with the ground. The lucky ones only have mud on them.  On others there is mud and blood.

We press on. Just past Watkins Mill Road she stops to get the mud out of her shoe.  A few miles further I will do likewise as even wearing gaiters the mud has worked its way into the shoes and made a ball under the arch of my foot.
Don poses in the mud before passing us
 for the final time

In a few hundred yards with both veer off the course in opposite directions to use the natural facilities.  Don, who has been leapfrogging with us, passes me and asks in surprise, "Why am I catching up with you again?"

Relentless forward progress
On we go and surprisingly, we somehow catch up with Don.  But it isn't for long and he passes us for a final time.

Death March
We clear the aid station at Brink Road.  We have about six miles to go.  By now Jennifer has given up any pretense of trying to run. It is a matter of perseverance now for her.  She says how she tells her children that just because something is hard you can't quit.  But this is different, I argue. You are in pain and taking drugs (by now she has taken another Tylenol 3).  There is nothing wrong with stopping when you are in pain and probably have a concussion I argue.  It is no use.  She is intent on going on.

In a couple of miles we come to the crossing of Seneca Creek. There are rocks to cross on, but the creek is up from the runoff and they are mostly at or below the surface.  There is a robe to hold onto to steady oneself, but it is generally slack.  We gingerly climb and slide down the slick bank to the crossing and I start across.  After a few steps the rope flops away from me, I lose my balance and both knees whack against the rocks. Cold water reaches tights, shorts and part of my shirt.

By now our pace has deteriorated that we are regularly being passed.  Appropriately, somewhere south of Watkins Road we smell death.  Somewhere nearby there is a decomposing carcass.  We don't see it but our noses pick up the unmistakable scent.  Since she is already nauseous it must be even worse for her.

The sun is getting low and the temperature is starting to fall.  I'm starting to get cold and my shirt and shorts have not fully dried.  

We cross Watkins Road and the volunteers there tell us how much further to the final aid station at Log House Road.  By now Jennifer's voice has changed.  When she talks it is in a disturbing monotone, devoid of any inflection. A little while later she says that her shoulders are getting hot.

And then she tells me that her eyes are pulling to the left.

Approaching Log Cabin Road with
less than 2 miles to go 
I spend the quarter mile before the Log House Road aid station trying to convince her to drop out there. I know that she won't but I've got to make the effort.  In her flat, affectless voice she insists that since she has gone this far she will go the remain 1.6 miles.  I can only tell her that I 'll continue to stay with her and that I have my phone if I need to dial 911.

On we walk. Finally the trail ends and we come out on the paved path in Damascus Recreational Park.  It is mostly uphill but at least the mud is over. Incredibly, as the finish line comes in sight, Jennifer insists that we run to it.  And so we do, crossing the line in 9:14. Astonishingly we are not DFL. Two runners finish 36 minutes behind us.

Jennifer tries the run the following week but her back continues to hurt. After another week she goes to the doctor.  He tells her no running for 4-6 weeks - she has a broken tailbone as a result of her snowboarding fall.

Later she admits to me that her memory was foggy in the days following her fall. "My boss told me he sent me emails to do things, but I had no recollection that I got them and opened them so I hadn't done what he asked," she said.

You decide: is this a tale of perseverance and true grit, or stubbornness and lack of adaptability?