Monday, November 15, 2010

Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K, November 13, 2010

JeanneLouWho, elegantly attired in a red wool coat, matching red beret and a star spangled silk scarf, beautifully sings the National Anthem on a brilliantly clear crisp fall morning for the 89 runners awaiting the 8 a.m. start of the inaugural Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K in Upper Marlboro, MD. Some of the runners join in. Members of the United States Naval Academy's cross country team stand at attention. The race, put on by the Annapolis Striders, is taking place in Rosaryville State Park, a 982 acre hidden gem just a few miles southwest of Andrews Air Force base off US 301. The Washington, DC, area is blest with trails, and these are ones that those of us who live north of DC don't know about.

The course consists of three loops of the ten mile-long single track Perimeter Trail, with about 3/4 of a mile in a mowed field and then some park road from a pavilion at the beginning of the race to spread out the field, and the same stub for the return. The track is mostly in the woods and gently undulating without much in the way of serious ascent or descent. There are a few tree roots and even fewer rocks, but nothing that requires much more than ordinary attention and not enough to distupt running stride. The trail has two stream crossings, but today the water is down. One stream is easy to leap over and the other has a log in it the enables a dry crossing. The course twice goes under a powerline and briefly skirts a pair of fields. There are two aid stations on the course, the first at the point where the loop begins and ends, and the second halfway around the loop.

It is cool at the start with temperatures in the mid-30s, but will warm to 63, so dressing is a bit of a challenge. I elect to start in my shorts, but wear a cap, gloves and my Miwok buff around my neck. Within a couple of miles I've taken off the hat but the gloves last a while longer. After the first loop I drop the gloves and hat at the aid station which also doubles as a place where runners can leave drop bags. The volunteers return all the bags and other items left at the station to the start before the end of the race.

A couple of weeks earlier at the Marine Corps Marathon I had success with a run seven minutes, walk one minute strategy and I've decided to use it again. I have some trouble figuring out how to maximize use of my watch for the cycle, but after about 15 miles I have it figured out. What the solution means however is that I routinely won't be flipping back to either the time of day or lap time functions on the watch. And that means that I won't know how I'm progressing.

The course is very well marked and since the footing is pretty good, one can spend some time looking at the scenery. There are no spectacular views as there are at other races, but the woods are infused with a golden light from from the mostly yellow and brown leaves on the ground and on the trees. A moment of inattentiveness allows a rise in the ground to catch my foot and I stumble and fall gently, dirtying my right calf, but without so much as an abrasion on either my leg or my hands. "Down but not out," I assure a runner who sees me fall, as I pop back up.

Passed the second aid station a runner tells me that trail bikers use the course. As if on cue a couple of riders come toward us. We'll see bike riders the rest of the day going in both directions, but all are unfailingly polite and there are no problems over sharing the trail. Later I meet a woman riding her horse in the woods, but mostly on trails that cross the trail we are running on.

I finish the first loop in 1:53. A bit quick I think. A flicker of a thought that I can go under six hours crosses my mind. On the plus side, the course is very runnable, I've now seen it all, and there are no difficult sections. On the down side is that there are still 20 miles to go, the day is getting warmer and slowing down is inevitable.

After I disposed of my hat and gloves I'd moved the buff to my wrist, but it it is hot there so I roll it up and wrap it around my head to catch the sweat which is starting to drip down.

About four miles into the second loop a photographer is busy shooting the passing runners. "What goes up must go down," he says of the rolling section of the course. "If the up lasts more than three hours," I reply, "call your doctor."

A little way past the second aid station, about mile 16, the first place runner passes me. He's done 26 miles to my 16. I try to do some mental arithmetic as to the ratio of our times, and figure that I'm about on my regular pace, which is to run about 54 percent of the distance covered by race winners when they are finished. Four or five more runners a lap ahead will pass me before I finish the second loop.

I finish the second loop in about 3:49. One loop to go, the 7/1 running has me feeling strong, and absent a catastrophic fall, I'm confident that I'll break my 50K PR of 6:37. What about six hours? I've got 11 minutes in the bank, but on the other hand, there is that extra three-quarters of a mile at the end.

I decide not to worry about. I've got the routine of using the timer function of the watch down so that I never have to look at either the time of day or the elapsed time. Run seven. Walk at the beep. Reset the time. When it counts down to six minutes, reset it again and run seven. Repeat. If I walk an uphill during the seven minutes, don't worry about it.

About mile 26 I finally hit the 'bad patch.' It is that point in an ultra when you start to wonder why you are doing it. Marathon runners 'hit the wall,' a point when they have depleted all their glycogen and start to have to rely on fat reserves for energy. It often seems that there is no recovery from the wall as it is based on physiology. Ultra runners don't seem to experience the wall. It may be because they are eating throughout the race, or are used to going longer distances or are better at pacing. The bad patch obviously has physiological components, but more of it seems mental. Today, it is a not-so-bad bad patch. It isn't very deep and doesn't last very long, maybe because I've been having a fine day. I avoid the temptation to glance at my elapsed time. I figure I should be able to finish under 6:10 or 6:15.

I exit the woods and get on the road to the finish. It is a long uphill and while I run some of it, I also walk a fair amount. Cresting the hill I can see the finish maybe 400 yards off. The red glow of the clock is visible, but it's too far away to see the numbers. My watch beeps and I take my one minute walk.

Finally I'm off the road and in the field. One hundred and fifty yards of tall grass, slightly uphill, to go. Someone is standing between me and the clock. Fifty yards to go and now I can see the hour number: '5.' Forty five yards and I can see '5:5' but not the unit minutes or seconds. Closer now. And finally the full clock: '5:59:42.' Sprint! Six hours is within range and sight. Cross the line. Gasp for air. Hands on knees. Did I make it? The race director comes over and congratulates me. "You were under six hours," he says. When the official results are posted the next day my time is 5:59:59. I finish 60 of 89.

After catching my breath I walk over to the pavilion for a Coke and a baked potato. I top the potato with cheese and a curried corn topping. And I collect my glass finishers mug to go with the hat I received when I registered in the morning.

When I get home I notice that salt is caked on the bridge of my nose and that my black shirt has salt stains as well. Fortunately I had taken two Succeed tablets during the race which helped replace - or contributed - to the salt I lost through my skin.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Marine Corps Marathon, October 31, 2010

The Plan
"I'll call you in six minutes," Emaad texts the day before the Marine Corps Marathon. He's all excited about his success using the Galloway run/walk system at the Army Ten Miler last week. The phone rings promptly six minutes later. He tries to convince me that using the system and walking one minute will enable us to run MCM in 4:27, ten minutes faster than either of us have ever run a marathon.

After running out of steam toward the end of the Wineglass Marathon I'm more than willing to try the walk/run method with him. But I don't share his optimism that we can run the entire marathon at the pace he ran the Army Ten Miler.

"But I was just as fresh at the end as I was when I started," he states.

"We have to go more than two and a half times the distance," I gently remind him.

He agrees and throttles back a bit on the enthusiasm but he's definitely ready and looking forward to tomorrow.

Tres Amigos Dos
Promptly at 6:00 a.m. Emaad and Wayne roll up to my house. I'm ready and we pile into my car for the drive to the MCRRC hospitality suite prior to the race. Last year we left a bit later and only got across the Key Bridge after some cajoling of the police who had closed it to traffic to Virginia. This year we take no chances and cross the Potomac on the Beltway and earlier time. We make quick time getting to the Rosslyn Holiday Inn and the suite.

This is the second (or third) time the three of us have done MCM together, and coincidentially this year, we are attired in a patriotic combination of red, white, and blue shirts, appropriate for the Marines own marathon. Wayne is also planning to use a run/walk strategy but on a different interval than Emaad and I. We'll start together, but then be on our own, although we all expect to be close to one another as we were last year.

We stroll to the start where we meet Heather H. All of us have something extra on to ward off the bit of chill in the morning air before the sun will warm us up. The Tres Amigos are wearing large trash bags and Heather has a throw-away shirt and a light sweatshirt.

Seventeen seconds after the scheduled 8:00 a.m. starting time the Marine howitzer barks and the marathon begins. It takes us twelve minutes to reach the start line, but we begin to run as we get to the line. This year seems more crowded than last year's MCM, and there are places through Arlington that force walking simply because of the numbers of runners. Headed down Spout Run, a stretch whose descent should allow us to make some time, is crowded and we are forced to weave and walk.

We cross Key Bridge and head out Canal Road and proceed up Reservoir Road onto MacArthur Boulevard. Now that the crowds have thinned out a bit, we are sticking to the run seven/walk one schedule. We leapfrog with Wayne, catching up to him during his walks and falling behind during ours.

Emaad is in good spirits. Part of it is the glorious weather, part of it is the effacy of the strategy and most it is because he is running with the over 87oo women who will make up 40 percent of the 21,856 finishers today. A woman goes past us wearing a football jersey. "I love to see women in football jerseys," he purrs.

As we pass Georgetown University, we pass some cheerleaders on the sidewalk. Emaad, a Syracuse University graduate, tries to get their attention by yelling "''Cuse, 'Cuse, 'Cuse," but they ignore him. Then we are in the heart of Georgetown and the crowds are electric. Loud, boisterous and dynamic they line both sides of the street. Cheering, music playing, shouting, they energize us as we turn first down Wisconsin Avenue, then K Street to begin the long trek down to Haines Point and the halfway point.

Emaad seems to be tiring just a little bit as we approach mile 14 so I tell him that I'll stay with him until at least mile 20. I give him one of my Succeed electrolyte capsules. We make the seemingly long slog along Constitution Avenue from the Lincoln Memorial, and then we are on the Mall. We catch up with Wayne again but as has been happening all day, we start are walk and he goes on.

The Bethesda Rebel Runners have set up an unofficial aid station across from the National Gallery of Art just beyond mile 18. Even though I know it is going to be there, I almost run past it, but at the last moment spot daughter Hilary. I get some pretzels and chocolate chip cookies. Emaad has missed it, but he slows down to allow me to catch up, and then Rebecca R., who has organized the station comes along and asks if she can get us anything. We arrange for her to meet us on the other side of the Mall after we circle around the foot of Capitol Hill.

Passing an aid station as we return to the Mall, I grab not one or two packets of sports beans, but four of them. As we meet up with Rebecca and Hilary, who have brought us more goodies from the Rebel Runners, I give them the packets as I take more chocolate chip cookies. It may be one of the few times in running history that a runner has tried to restock an aid station.

Emaad is starting to obviously fade more now. "There's a woman in a Brett Favre jersey," I point out to lift his spirits. But it doesn't do the trick. "I've got standards," he unfairly replies. It's less the standards than the distance, I think.

Mile 20 comes just before the approach to the 14th Street Bridge. I tell Emaad that I'm feeling good and am going on, and he gives me a farewell wave and wishes me good luck. I credit the feeling to the seven/one method we have been practicing, and the goos and other things I have been eating. I decide to keep it up for the remaining 10K of the race.

In previous MCM's the bridge has often been the low point of the race. There are few spectators on the straight mile-long barren concrete highway with the sun shining down at the time that most runners start to hit 'the wall.' Police boats patrol the waters beneath the bridge. About halfway across the bridge I catch up with Wayne and Heather. They are in the midst of one of their walk breaks as I pass them. This time the bridge is not a problem for me and I cruise into Crystal City looking forward to the beer at the Hash House Harriers unofficial aid station. They do not disappoint.

I'm in good spirits. I ask a pregnant runner if they charged her two entry fees. I'm enjoying the costumed runners as today is Halloween, and I've seen brides, superheroes (male and female), chicken man and even Satan, complete with bib number 666. I note that everyone in the race is actually in costume and could go out for Halloween as a marathon runner.

Run seven, walk one. Only in the last mile do I begin to falter a bit and walk a little bit more. But that has a purpose of making sure I have enough energy to run up the hill to the finish line at the Marine Corps Memorial, the iconic Iwo Jima statue. I do and finish in 4:40:05, my best time of my five MCMs.

With my medal around my neck, place there as tradition dictates by a Marine lieutenant, I leave the finish area, get my USAA finisher's coin from its booth and walk back to the Holiday Inn. I'm eating lasagna and washing it down with a non-alcoholic beer - I've got to drive Tres Amigos home - when Wayne comes in. He finished in 4:48, meeting his goal of finishing under five hours due to his lack of training. Emaad does indeed fade the last six miles, finishing in 4:56. But like Wayne he, too, had his training disrupted by an injury, so he is not particularly disappointed Heather also finishes in 4:56.