The weather leading up to race day is pretty much near perfect. No rain for a week, and after the mudfest and high water of 2019 I obsessively check the stream gauge on Seneca Creek at Route 28. Last year it ran at 440 cubic feet per second. This year it is less than a quarter of that and below the median for the date. A good omen promising a dry course, and even better, a dry crossing of Dry Seneca Creek.
|Waiting to start|
The coronavirus is in the news, but there are no restrictions on gatherings such as the race. At the start, the organizers announce that because of the coronavirus, the rules at the aid stations are changed. Runners are not to take their own food at the aid stations. Instead, volunteers will hand them food or the runners may take food, such as M&Ms, potato chips or pretzels, already parceled out into small disposable cups.
Fermat's Last Theorem and Other Topics
The nearly 300 runners start off down the park road to the entry to the trail under partly sunny skies, temperatures in the 40s and just a bit of breeze. I run with Don and as usual on such runs the topics bounce around randomly. For some reason (other than Don's training as a mathematician) we discuss Fermat's Last Theorem and the efforts to prove it. This leads to a discussion of the four color theorem and its applicability to objects with more than two dimensions.
|Old farm equipment along the trail|
After about five miles Don picks up the pace and I cannot follow. I'll see him again at the food pavilion at the end of the race where he finished 58 minutes ahead of me.
South and North
The Route 28 aid station (mile 7.5) has small cups loaded with snacks and runners are careful in selecting food. I take a cup of pastel peanut M&Ms and eat them while walking alongside Route 28 to cross over to the Seneca Bluffs Trail. Finishing the snack, I ask the course marshal guiding runners onto the trail if I can leave the empty cup with her and she takes it.
About a mile along a runner ahead of me stumbles and falls. Remarkably his shoe comes off and rolls a short way down the slope on the left side of the trail. He is unhurt and retrieves the wayward footwear.
|Dry feet at Dry Seneca Creek|
Speaking of Dry Seneca Creek (it is never dry, although perhaps in the 19th century it occasionally might have been), this year it is possible to cross it on the concrete stepping stones without wetting a foot; a welcome change from last year's thigh-high torrent with the stones submerged and unseen in the turbid water.
|Playing the air |
Just up Seneca Road, before where the course get on the dirt of the Seneca Greenway Trail is a semi-unofficial aid station (mile 14) serving distinctly adult beverages. It is a week or ten days before the seriousness of the coronavirus really will hit home and the workers treat it with some levity, with one in personal protection equipment and another pouring Corona beer for the runners. At the same time, the aid station workers are wearing gloves to avoid food contamination.
It is only a mile to the Berryville Road aid station (mile 15) where our drop bags await. I don't get anything from mine but instead dispose of the shirt I had taken off a mile into the race, as well as my gloves and hat.
|It was cold and good|
Heading for a Decision
I reach the Route 28 aid station in company with another runner. She is contemplating dropping out, and I've been trying to buck up her spirits with two tales of the toughness of Jennifer (and the second). When she gets there she plops down on a chair and is greeted by a friend who is dropping out. I go on, feeling bad that I didn't try harder to convince her to go on.
But after getting on the Seneca Ridge Trail beyond Black Rock Mill, I'm pleased to hear her overtake me. She gives me credit for encouraging her to go on.
|It was funny then|
I go on and after a bit fall myself. No harm done, I've fallen so many times on trail runs that most times muscle memory takes over: rotate left, tuck the right shoulder in, roll to the right, try to spread out the landing. I do well this time, and my hydration pack absorbs some of the impact. A nearly 360 degree roll and I'm on my feet.
Five More Miles to Go
I arrive at the Riffle Ford Road aid station (mile 26.8) and check my watch. The decison point for going to the finish for the marathon (closer to 29 rather than 26.2 miles) or the 50K (more like 32 than 31.1 miles) lies a bit ahead and I know that unlike last year I'm comfortably ahead of the cut-off.
I go on to the Mink Hollow Trail and as I cross the park road in a little while, Edwin Starr's 1969 hit Twenty Five Miles pops into my head. I sing part of it (I got a five more miles to go/Now over the hill just around the bend/Huh although my feet are tired I can't lose my stride) for the course marshals at the road but they are too young to recognize it - or perhaps I just don't sing well.
Another couple of different runners join me. I get to tell my stories again. One tells us she just got back from a visit to Iceland. The other runner and I jokingly move further away from her. Little do we know that is soon to become the rule.
With around a half a mile left she says she is going to go on. I urge her to finish strong as it is her first ultra. Another runner passes me. I don't fret. I mostly walk. No hurry.
I cross the line in 8:33:28, good (?) for 159/166 overall and 8/8 in my age group. On the other hand, I'm the oldest 50K finisher - by six years. Two older runners finish the marathon, including the remarkable Gretchen Bolton at 74.
|Swag: Bib, pint glass, two bananas, candy|