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|
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|
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)|
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|
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|
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.