Friday, December 30, 2011

Rosaryville Veterans' Day 50K, November 12, 2011

Jeanne Lou Who
My Name is Beelzebub, but All My Friends Call Me Bud
"I thought that you had fooled me," Rebecca R. says as she spots me waiting for the beginning of the Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K put on by the Annapolis Striders.  Ever since the Marine Corps Marathon I had encouraged her to come out and run the race, pointing out that it was an easy 50K and that since it was three loops, she could drop out after only one or two.  She wouldn't commit, saying maybe she'd run two loops.  I had gotten there early, registered and then sat in the car to keep warm, and she had thought that after all that urging, it was me who had not shown up.

But I was there and she and I both know - I having told her in advance - that I would be trying to persuade her to run the entire race.  "I have a conference call at 2:00 p.m.," she announces, trying to preempt any early attempts of mine to begin lobbying for her to run the entire race.  I smile.  "I'm sure you'll make it.  An ambiguous "it."  The call or the 50K?   The Devil has begun his work.

Jeanne Lou Who sings a stirring a capella version of the National Anthem and the approximately 100 runners are off at 8:00 a.m.   Under six hours is before 2:00 p.m., the time of Rebecca's call.

Rebecca and I take it easy and chat through the first loop.  Caroline W. catches up with us and mentions that she is going to run the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in February.  It sounds like fun, I think.

Vultures' Banquet

The Circle of Life I
A large solitary bird circles above the edge of a clearing as we run under some power lines. I'm no birder, but I recognize the bird as a vulture.  I'm not sure whether it it a turkey or black vulture, but it is clearly a vulture.  And then on the ground just off the trail I see the reason for the vulture.  A deer carcass lies just off the side of the trail, and it's obvious that the vultures have been feeding on it.  The presence of today's runners is going to disrupt the vultures from doing their job of disposing of carcasses.

Rebecca and I chat about her coming conference call, which is to prepare for a group presentation she has to make in a couple of days.  I ask her who is on it, and what her goals on the call are.  Ostensibly I'm trying to help her prepare, but Lucifer has many wiles, and I working to reduce the pressure of making the call at precisely 2:00 p.m.

Existential Breakfast Aid Station
Do You Have an Extension Cord?
There are two aid stations on the 10-mile loop, about five miles apart.  They have the usual ultra-food of soda, sports drink, cookies, M&Ms, boiled potatoes, Pringles, orange slices and the like and are much appreciated by the runners.  But out in the woods beside the trail are a pair of whimsical aid station-like shrines.  One consists of various bottles and containers. The second has a pair of coffee urns, other pots and metal objects and a toaster.  I joke about the need for a very long extension cord to power up this unmanned aid station.

Back at the aid station at the end of the first loop, Rebecca and I discard some layers of clothing as the day has begun to warm up into the 50s.  It's perfect running weather and the bright sun penetrates through the leafless trees to the trail.  The yellow and brown leaves on the ground provided a burnished golden glow to the course.

A couple of miles into the second loop, Rebecca realizes that she can spot her car parked about 100 yards from the trail. "Well," I say, "you can always start the third loop and quit here to do your conference call."

We press on, both of us enjoying the day.  I've forgotten my watch, so I don't have much of an idea of how we are doing timewise.  I tweet about being "halfway done" at 11:08 a.m., which suggests to me that we are behind a six-hour pace.  But I'm not that concerned about it.  It is to get Rebecca to run her second 50K.

Ken and Rebecca on the First Loop
Belial at Work
Now, halfway through the second loop, at the end of which Rebecca will make her decision whether to go on or not, it's time for The Tempter to lure her over to the dark side.

Earlier I had told her that since I'm parked closer to the finish line, I'll give her a ride to her car so she can make the call.  And, of course, conference calls never start on time.  And since the call is going to review a 50-slide deck, it will take awhile.  And the points she wants to make can easily be made at the end of the call.

The choice should be simple: get on a work-related conference call with her boss or run in the woods. Abaddon's role is to sow confusion and doubt as to which is the right choice.  The seeds have been sown during the first three hours of the run.  Now is the time for The Tempter to reap.  And the best course to do this is to let the day, and the paradise that is the Rosaryville trail this day do the work.

As we approach where the trail leaves the woods for the aid station at the beginning of the third and final loop I ask Rebecca if she has made a decision.  The Old Serpent is preparing for the struggle.

"Yes," she says, "I'm going on." As the Book of Genesis, in 3:6, says, "when the woman saw that the tree was good . . ., and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired . . ., she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat."  No need for further cajoling.

"Let's push the pace," I say.  "We still have a shot at six hours."

The Circle of Life II
A mile or so into the loop a runner exclaims, "Look at the wild turkeys."  We look to the right and down toward the side of a stream.  There are about a dozen large birds milling about.  Turkeys are often hard enough to spot in the underbrush, but a whole flock in a clearing is remarkable.  I look closer. "Those aren't turkeys," I say, but turkey vultures."  As they hop about and some begin to fly off we see what they were doing - feasting on the carcass of another deer.

Second loop after shedding layers
When You Get Passed, You Stay Passed
Our quicker pace has us passing other runners. I tell Rebecca that we are like lions, hunting down antelope on the plains of the Serengeti.  It's a mind game that I frequently play in those infrequent times that I actually have a chance to overtake other runners.  But I recall that she is a vegetarian, so I amend the image.  "We are giraffes," I say, "seeking the blossoms of the jacaranda trees ahead."

I also tell her, after we have passed Brady H. with about three miles to go that in my experience, once you pass someone in the latter stages of a race, they stay passed.

As we come off the trail and onto the road for the last half or three quarters of a mile to the finish, Rebecca asks if I want to know what our time is.  I tell her no, that I want to try to push to get under six hours.

. . . Or Not
Not far up the road, Brady runs passed me.  "You were supposed to stay passed," I sputter good naturedly.  She invites me to keep up, but not only is that not to be, but she goes on to pass another runner further ahead.

As I approach the finish line, I can see the clock.  But unlike last year, when a mad dash allowed me to finish one second under six hours, there is no chance of that this year.  I finish in 6:07:51, with Rebecca nine seconds behind.

Lucifer Keeps His Promise
Rebecca and I hustle to my car, and we quickly dash to the next parking area to her car.  She hops out and gets into her car to join her conference call at about 2:10.  I head back to the finish area to get a bit to eat.

Rosaryville swag - hat and bib
About ten minutes later, she returns.  She got on the call before it was over and made and won the points she wanted to make.

I finished 3/7 in my age group, fortieth male, and 62/92 overall.

And Rebecca got to both run her second 50K and make her work-related call.

Not a bad day for the Devil and his new recruit.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Marine Corps Marathon - October 30, 2011

Vignettes of the weekend of my sixth Marine Corps Marathon

Rather than the usual race report format, I've done this one as brief episodes of things that I stuck with me from the race and the weekend.

Twitpicing the Tweets
On Friday afternoon, Barry S. and I attend the MCM Runners Club mixer at the Capitol Hill Hyatt.  A large electronic screen displays tweets sent with the #36thMCM hashtag.  We both pull out our phones and tweet that we are with each other at the mixer.

As we eat our nachos and enjoy a beer, Race Director Rick Nealis stops to sit and chat with us for a few minutes before he has to go back to work.

I wander over to a table where there are MCM Runners Club pins and MCM light switch covers for the taking.  I can't resist free, so I take one of  each.  Barry does resist, even after I point out to him that the light switch cover also doubles as a drink coaster.

Then an inspiration hits me.  I position myself so that when my tweet appears on the screen I take a picture of it and then twitpic the picture of my tweet - sort of derivative re-tweet.  Barry laughs, says it makes his hair hurt, and then does the same thing.

May I have a shirt? Or two? How about three?
As we sit at the table at the MCM Runners Club mixer, two young women come up to us and ask if we know about the moderated tweeting for the MCM.  They are with myStanly, a firm that moderates tweets and is doing so for the #36thmcm hashtag.  We point out that we have already tweeted with the hashtag.

Then I ask them if I can get one of their teeshirts.  And another for Barry. In large.  They say yes, they think they still have some, and go off to get them.  Not only do they bring back two shirts, but the shirts are in water bottles. A bonus!

This is such a pleasant surprise that I tell them that I have another friend who was not able to join us and can I get a medium size shirt for her.  And they oblige. Barry is impressed, either at my nerve or my charming ability to get them to give me shirt after shirt.

0600 AIS
Equipo Cinco Amigos have agreed to carpool from my house to the MCRRC hospitality suite at the Key Bridge Holiday Inn for the race.  Emaad and I have done this the past few years and not only does it give us a place to put our things and prepare before the race, but it provides a place to return post-race and enjoy the buffet and liquid refreshments afterward.  But getting there requires leaving early enough to avoid road closures and get parking at the hotel.  I'm insistent that everyone be at my house at 0600 AIS - that is, seated in Jennifer's Suburban at 6:00 a.m.  A couple of days before, Emaad asks if it is OK for his friend Matt to come along, and is given a green light, provided that he explain '0600 AIS' to Matt, and the consequences of not complying.  Emaad assures us that he has.

The Cinco Amigos are all on time and we are all AIS at 0600, but Matt is nowhere in sight.  Emaad assures us that he is on the way, but then adds that Matt is scraping the frost off his windshield.  I'm getting agitated.  At 0603 I tell Jennifer to start the engine and back out of the driveway and get pointed in the right direction. "We are leaving shortly," I say to all. At 0604 we see headlights coming down the street.  "That's him," Emaad exclaims, more out of hope than conviction, I think.  But it is Matt, and he is AIS at 0605, just barely avoiding being left behind. (See the "Lateness"  episode of Everyone Loves Raymond for the derivation of AIS. And why the exception to AIS would not have applied to him.)

"How many GUs are you taking with you," I ask Rebecca as we prepare to head out of the suite. "Ten," she replies.  I'm not a fan of them but think that maybe she has a point, and stick a third in my pocket.  I remind her that they have them on the course. "They may not have my flavor," she replies, "and I don't know if they have them where I'll need them.  When I turn away, she packs another pair into her belt.

Keep Breathing
Coming down Foxhall Road I catch up to three women wearing MCRRC first-time marathoner shirts.  They are reminding each other of proper breathing techniques.  As I come along side I greet them and tell them that the only key thing they really need to do about their breathing is to keep doing it. "And," I add cheerfully, "if you do stop breathing, you won't have to worry about after three minutes."

Running along Independence Avenue I keep alert for any cracks or holes that could trip me or twist an ankle. My downcast eyes spot a familiar rectangular shape on the ground and I dodge someone's foot to pick up a $10 bill, which from its limp condition has obviously been lost by another runner.  "Great," I say to a nearby runner, "I just got a rebate for running this race."

God Bless America
Along Hains Point, about mile 14,  I came across a runner carrying an American flag. "What's it like to carry that all the way?" I ask.  He nods toward another runner and says that he is just spelling that guy, who is actually the flag bearer.  I ask if I can try and he agrees.  The 3' x 5' nylon flag is on a plastic pole with a foam grip.  It is surprisingly light, and can be carried with one hand, but the gusts of wind make the pole move about and I develop a sense that carrying it for the entire marathon could get tiring, especially in the arms and shoulders.  After a few minutes I pass it back to the runner, and thank him for the honor of letting me carry it during the Marine Corps Marathon.  This is one marathon that such an act does not seem contrived, not only due to the sponsor and the large numbers of service members who run it, but also because of the all too many shirts one sees with the names and faces of service members who, in Lincoln's words "gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."

Speed Trap
Along the west side of Hains Point is a police mobile radar speed sign that provides a readout of approaching cars' speed by displaying, under a "Your speed is" sign, a digital readout of the speed.  The sign is displaying  6s and 7s as the group of runners surrounding me approach it.  I slide right to be on the side of the road nearest the sign, and sprint.  The speed jumps to 10.  A runner behind me yells out, "You're running six minute miles." "Yeah," I reply, "for about 20 yards.  I'm doing this so that everyone can think that they are running a good pace."

Racing Begins At Mile 20
Just past mile 4, approaching the Key Bridge, Emaad and Rebecca catch up with me.  Emaad asks what is my plan for the day.  "Plan?" I reply, "I have no plan. There is no plan in running."  And indeed, I don't have a plan.  The two of them pull away.  I'm just out to enjoy the day.  Throughout the day I click my watch to capture the mile splits, but I don't pay any attention to them.  Throughout the teen miles I just repeat the mantra, "the race begins at mile 20."

At mile 20, just before the mile-long crossing of the Potomac River via the Fourteenth Street Bridge, I feel good and look at my watch.  I've been running for 3:26. "Let's see if I can keep up the pace," I think.

On the far side of the bridge a guy slowly passes me.  I use him for pacing and try to stay up with him, but I can only do that for a few hundred yards.  Still, it feels good, and doesn't exhaust me. Mile 21 passes in about 3:36, meaning I'm maintaining my pace.

Entering the two mile, out and back loop in Crystal City, I start to scan the runners going in the opposite direction.  I figure Emaad is out there somewhere and I want to let him know I'm coming.  I've caught or left him behind in the past couple of MCMs at about this point, and I figure if he knows I'm hunting him, it will provide an incentive for him to push himself, much like the impala must find the reserves to flee the stalking lion.  I never do see him, likely because I was distracted in getting a cup of beer from the Hash House Harriers at the moment our paths crossed.

Each mile after 21 is the same outcome - my pace is not dropping.  By mile 22 I figure that barring a collapse or injury I'll break my old marathon personal best of  4:36.  Now the race is on as to whether I can break 4:30.

I'm focused on the goal.  I've decided to push for as long as I can.  Unlike my usual gregariousness when I run, I've stopped chatting with other runners.  I'm focused on the road ahead and keeping up the pace. Miles 23, 24 and 25 are steady and I'm through 25 in 4:17.  Only about 1.25 miles to go.  A runner passes me on the long downhill on route 110.  I try to speed up to keep up but can't, but I'm still moving pretty well.  The crowd is increasing and cheering the runners on.  I'm focused on the road ahead.  Finally mile 26. Four twenty seven and change.  Turn left and up the hill toward the Iwo Jima Memorial.  Push. Run. No walking as in years past.   There's the finish arch.  No sprint. Just keep the pace up. Don't stop.  Cross the first mat.  Cross the second mat.  Stop the watch. Now look at it. 4:29:49! A PR by more than six minutes.

I finish 77 of 414 in my 60-64 AG, 6329 of 12427 males, and 9133 of 21023 finishers.

Equipo Cinco Amigos
The past several years, Emaad, Wayne and I have run as team Tres Amigos.  But earlier this year, Wayne's wife suddenly passed away and he had to stop running to spend his time raising their three daughters.

Partly in memory of Wayne, we constitute a new team, Equpo Cinco Amigos, with Emaad, me, Barry, Rebecca and Jennifer.

MCM turns out to be good for individual team members.  In addition to my PR, Emaad, Rebecca and Jennifer all run PRs, although Jennifer's joy in her PR is tempered by her failing to qualify for the Boston Marathon by a mere 79 seconds.

Overall however Cinco Amigos comes in seventh of eight teams in the Masters category.

MCM Swag

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gunpowder Keg 50K Fat Ass, September 17, 2011

Fat ass.  If you look up the ordinary definition, you'll see that the term refers to, well, an individual with a particularly large posterior.  It's also used as a jibe toward someone who is lazy.  But ask a runner, particularly a trail runner, and you get an entirely different description of what is a fat ass.

I arrive at the Bunker Hill Road parking lot of Gunpowder State Park, about eight miles north of the Baltimore Beltway off I-83 at 7:30 a.m.  I meet Michele M., Karen D., Dan M. and Marti K., all experienced trail runners from the Washington area.   There are about three dozen runners in total.

Since this is a fat ass the registration process consists of  signing in on a sheet, making a voluntary contribution to a fund for the park ($5 is the suggested contribution) and providing a gallon of water.  I also contribute  Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies and a bag of plain M+Ms.  The water and food contributions are important because in a fat ass, because runners only get to drink or eat what is contributed by the participants.   There are no bibs, no race shirts, no prizes, no medals, no bags of swag. 

The race director describes the course in detail, as Hurricane Irene and a subsequent storm has caused some damage in the park requiring some rerouting. This year it consists of two approximately 15-mile traverses of the course, rather than three ten mile loops as in the past.  But the course is such that runners can decide to do  10-, 15-, 20- or other distances by omitting parts of the course if they so choose.  Since this is a fat ass, such alternatives are perfectly acceptable.

The only admonition the race director gives is that runners who don't finish the first loop by noon should not start out on the second loop.

Dan M. and Michele M. a half hour in.
The race director finishes his directions, herds the runners behind what he says is the start line, and says go.  We run across the parking lot and get on the single track trail.  The trail rolls up and down through the woods.  We run alongside various streams and in some places have to cross the streams.  Damage from the previous storms is obvious but not bad, but there are numerous trees down across the trail.  In other places, the trail passes through grass meadows alongside the stream where the grass was battered down and lies pointing in parallel ranks in the direction the water flowed.

As we hop over one log with a vine on it, Marti warns, "that poison ivy."  My general approach is to treat all green things as poison ivy unless I know for a fact that it isn't.  In various parts of the course there is no way to avoid getting brushed by plants.  When I get home that night I scrub my legs with a generic version of Tecnu which is supposed to wash away the urushiol, the oil that causes the allergic reaction.  Perhaps it helps, as I wind up with only a few welts on my legs.

At various places the trail parallels the Gunpowder River.  Fisherman stand in the stream in their waders.  I ask how the fishing is going, and with the exception of one, no one has caught anything.

In several places the trail comes close to the edge of the stream bank.  Michele M. is running ahead of me. The bank is eroded and as she tries to maneuver around one particularly narrow point, the undercut bank gives way under her right foot.  She grasps for a branch but to no avail.  She slides down the steep bank and slides down the four or five feet into the sandy edge of the stream.  She's gotten some scratches from the brush but is otherwise unhurt.  I offer a hand, and she grasps it as she scrambles up to the trail.

We finish the first loop well before the  noon cutoff.  For various reasons, mostly having to do with obligations later in the day, the others all decide not to go on. Another runner, Eric R. finishes the loop with us and indicates that he is going on.  That clinches it for me.  I decide to go on.  We tell the race director that we are going on and he checks us off on his sheet.

Notwithstanding the forecast that there would be no rain until the afternoon, and then south of Washington, it is there is an intermittent light rain north of Baltimore.  Eric and I change shirts and he tells me to go on as he is going to eat a banana and make some other adjustments.

I head off.  Passing through the archery range section of the park I spot a white-tailed deer dashing away even though there are no archers to be seen.  I stop to use the basic facilities at the range.  Emerging, Eric catches up with me.  

Eric R. searches for the trail over a small stream.
He tells me that the course sweeper is somewhere behind us taking up the small orange flags that mark the course. We run together and engage in companionable discussion.  He is originally from Baltimore but now lives near Richmond, VA.  He is staying at his mother's house.  This is his first 50K and he is running it as part of his training for the Atacama Crossing, a seven-day, 250K race across the Atacama Desert in Chile in March, 2012.

I tell him I'm going to France in October and he gives me pointers on things to see and where to stay in La Ville-Lumiere.

We compare experiences from the August 23 earthquake, or more accurately, his non-experience from it.  He was in his car driving along I-66 in Stafford County (VA) and never felt it.

There are two aid stations on the course, both of which one visits twice.  The first is a water-only stop, manned during the first loop, unmanned when we visited the second loop.  The second aid station is the back of pickup truck with a cap over the bed.  This station is there when we get to it the first time during the second loop, but is gone when we return to it. Perhaps the reason it is gone is that we have done something that happens sooner or later to all trail runners.

Eric is a new receptacle into which I can pour story after story without any fear that this is the third - or maybe fifth - time I have told it to him.  In the middle of one of these incredible gems of oral exposition he interrupts me to say, "I don't think we are still on the course.  I don't recognize that road ahead."

Pretending to run along the Gunpowder River
with 113 year old bridge in background.
Indeed, he is right.  As we head back we are worried that the sweeper may have come along and picked up the course markers.  We backtrack about a half mile and are relived to spot flags still stuck in the ground.  We head the right way, but now I'm hyper-vigilant to stay on course.  We come to what appears to be a trail intersection and I explore one direction while Eric takes the other.  There are no markers on either, but Eric recognizes a feature he recalls from the first lap and we go that way.

Finally we head up the last hill to the parking lot and the finish.  My watch say 7:08:22, but that is too exact for a fat ass, so it really is just 7:08.

When we arrive, there is no one there.  There are a couple of cars in the lot, including ours.  There is a trailer with some cases of bottled water beside it.  We look in vain for a sign-out sheet.  Finally we walk to our cars and spend a bit of time getting out of wet, muddy shoes and socks.  When I get home I email the race director thanks for a fine race and send him our times.  Perhaps he will publish results; perhaps not.

It's a fat ass, after all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monster Half Marathon, September 4, 2011

"I'm never coming back for this," were my last words as I left the Monster Marathon in 2010. The race takes place outside Virgil, NY and consists of a double out-and-back on single track trails up and down Virgil Mountain. The half marathon course has 2780 feet of climb and a corresponding amount of descent.

The view of the starting line from my car.
But it is now a year later and I'm explaining to the race officials that my previous statement is only a half lie.  "I'm not running the marathon," I say, "but I'll run the half."

The weather is warm and humid, unlike the pleasant cool temperatures of a year ago. Subsequently, the  race results will describe the weather as, "Partly cloudy, 80s, very humid."  I put a small container with Succeed! tablets in one pocket, put a couple of gels in another and my phone (to take pictures in a third).  Driver's license (for ID) and car keys go in another.  I've lost a few pounds this year and my shorts feel a bit loose.  I try to untie the drawstring to tighten them up, but there is a knot in them and I can't get it undone.  I've run with the shorts before and figure it won't be much of a problem.

One feature of the race is that it is age- and sex-graded, so I get to start 21 minutes before the official starting time of 9 a.m.  At 8:39 I'm off - alone.  Of the 84 starters, I'm the ninth to begin and the second male, with only 67-year old Joe R. starting before me.

Looking for white blazes in the piney woods.
The course starts with about a three quarter mile stretch down a gravel road before turning onto the Finger Lakes Trail.  Even though the race directions are simple - "follow the white blazes" - and I've been on the course last year, I come to the same spot where I got off course last year and still have to stop to search for the path. But I find it without actually going astray and begin the long climb up the mountain.  It isn't long before runners start to pass me. I'm used to it so I step aside to let them go and wish them good running.

But my shorts are becoming a problem.  The combination of things I'm carrying, the lost pounds and the sweat are allowing gravity to have a downward effect on my shorts. I'm quite clearly exhibiting "plumbers crack" to the runners coming up behind me.

I try a variety of things to address the problem.  First I tuck my shirt into the shorts.  But running simply pulls it out as the shorts sag southward.  I try rearranging the phone and gels, thinking that different pockets might change their influence on the sag.  Finally I stop and remove a safety pin from my bib and put a tuck in the shorts.  That fails.

Humidity and sweat lead to blurry pics.
The heat and humidity is oppressive, even in the shaded woods, but that gives me an idea of how to solve two problems at once.  I remove my shirt and tuck it in the back of my shorts.  Unfortunately, the sweat-soaked shirt, even after I ring it out, is too heavy and instead of taking up slack in the waistband, pulls the shorts down further.  I roll up the shirt and drape it around my neck where it remains for the rest of the race.  Then, I tuck my water bottle in the back of the shorts with the same drooping results.  Finally, tucking the bottle in the front of the shorts has positive results, but the bottle does tend to work its way down to regions not intended to share space with water bottles.  With all options exhausted I revert to simply tugging the shorts up when then get too low.  And as the day goes on, I worry less and less about it as it becomes clear that they are not going to drop to my ankles - and there are fewer and fewer runners around to see the low riding shorts.

Last year I ran the first half of the Monster Marathon in 3:05.  My aim today is to finish under three hours.  The plan is simple - 45 minutes between each aid station.  There is a bit of challenge there in the second part, as I should be a bit tired particularly given the heat and humidity, but I figure that since it is net downhill, that will cancel out any weariness.  I get to the first aid station in 46 minutes, a very acceptable result given the climbing in that section of the course.  Despite almost getting off course - a runner calls me back as I miss a turn - I reach the turn-around in 43 minutes, with an elapsed time of 1:30:38, almost exactly on schedule. But even as I keep expecting the midway aid station to be just around the next turn or at the top of the next short climb, it isn't there.  It takes 48 minutes to reach the aid station, more than four minutes slower than I had just run the section in the opposite direction.  I'm disappointed, but retain a glimmer of hope that the trail down Virgil Mountain will enable me to make up the time.

No sooner have I left the aid station than an animal howls from my right.  I swivel in that direction and see, in the crook of a tree, the black and white dappled fronds of the Virgil Monster.  I yell at the six foot tall creature, "Are you the Monster?"

The Monster responds in perfect English, "I am the Monster."

Ignoring the fact that the Monster is wearing athletic shoes, I say, "Wait a minute. Monsters can't speak English."

I'm answered with loud monster-like noises as I run on.

My hopes to make up time on the down slopes of Virgil Mountain are dashed by the steepness and technical nature of the trail.  I put discretion and avoiding injury ahead of competitiveness, and even when a runner catches up and passes me, I let him go.

Monster Half Marathon swag.
On the gravel road headed to the finish I spot a crooked stick.  But as I approach the stick wiggles and a small snake, maybe a foot long, slithers off into the grass by the side of the road..

I reach the finish in 3:08:05, for an age-adjusted time of 2:47:05, good enough for 46th of 80.  In the spirit of the low key nature of the race, and the modest $30 entry fee for day-of-race registration, I am awarded the finishers thin cord necklace of a red plastic leaf with 13.1 inscribed on the reverse.

After changing out of my sweat-soaked clothes I enjoy the iced tea, lemonade, a variety of wraps, salads and chips provided for the runners' enjoyment before heading back to our house in Watkins Glen.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Riley's Rumble Half Marathon, August 7, 2011

The website for Riley's Rumble warns, "If you want the 3 H's (hills, heat, and humidity), this is the race for you." Rather ominously it continues, "It . . . may not be advisable for your first half marathon."  In 2010 the weather conditions were so adverse that the race was changed to a fun run, meaning that the race was not timed and no results recorded.

I am not fond of half marathons.  They are on roads rather than trails and the distance is too short to run slowly and too long to run fast. And Riley's has the 3 H's. Maybe the combination of all those is why I don't run other half marathons. Riley's is the only half marathon that I run; as an MCRRC member, I don't have to pay for it.   Maybe if I ran a flat course on a cool fall day I wouldn't dislike the distance so much.  But I'm not inclined to find out.

I get up at 4:50 a.m. to drive out to the Germantown SoccerPlex where there race begins and ends as I've volunteered to help at registration prior to the race.  Registration work beginning at 5:30 a.m. at Riley's is easy and well organized in that club members who have run previously only need to remember to bring their bib and chip and run and nonmembers who registered online need only to pick up their bibs.  Lines for members who forgot their chips and for nonmembers registering the day of the race never get more than two or three deep due to the organizational skills of registration captain Christina C.  The biggest challenge is illuminating the board with nonmembers bib numbers before the sun rises at 6:14.

I start off with Mark McK. and Barry S.  Mark tells me about the West Virginia Trilogy of a 50K, a 50 miler and a half marathon over three days in October.  Doing the 50K and the half have some appeal and I tell him I'll take it under advisement.

The temperature is not too bad, but the dew point is high and the relative humidity makes it feel like running in a sauna.  Sweat has little evaporative cooling effect as the air is not dry enough to permit the sweat to evaporate. My glasses cloud up and even taking them off does not clear the fog from them.  My ability to see during the entire race comes down to two fuzzy choices: muted fuzzy shapes and colors through clouded lenses or brighter out-of-focus shapes and colors through uncorrected eyes.  I try both.  Neither is superior to the other.

Mark and I gradually pull away from Barry and then I pull away from Mark. The first few miles go by at about a ten minutes per mile pace. Around mile four the poor vision contributes to me missing a broken piece of pavement and I roll my right ankle. I walk and hobble for a bit, but I've rolled that ankle so many times that after about a quarter mile it feels OK and I can resume running.

I've prepared for the weather and brought Succeed electrolyte tables along.  I take three throughout the course of the run and they help fend off any dehydration.

Just past mile 8, the course runs along a country road to a turnaround at mile 8.42 (yes, it is marked that way on the course) where Don L. runs an aid station handing out Freezee pops.  "What flavor are the green ones," I yell to Don as I approach the turn around.  As I get to him, he hands me a green one and says, "It's jalapeƱo."

Getting to the next aid station Rebecca R. is offering runners the choice of Gatorade with and without ice.  This is extraordinary serve for an aid station and I select "with."

I feel that I'm fading a bit, but then fellow trail runner Liz and several of her friends catch up with me and I work off their energy to pick up my pace.  After a short time I feel something wacking my left ankle.  I look down, figuring it is my shoelace, but the lace is securely fastened.  The wacking continues.  I look again and realize that it my right lace hitting the opposite ankle.  I stop and retie it as the group runs off.  The last portion of the course contains some significant uphills and I walk them.  At the last aid station I take the proffered water and splash it into my face.

While I have averaged just under 10 minutes per mile the first 11 miles, the next two miles the pace falls to 11:25 per mile.  In the last stretch before the finish, a women catches up to me and urges me to keep up with her.  I try, but as soon as she gets a bit ahead, I stop running and resume walking.

But in the last 80 yards I spot a runner a little ahead.  Somewhere I find a bit of energy and sprint, passing him
just before the finish line.  It leaves me gasping for breath, but it is worth it.

I find Mark Z. and he offers to pour water over my head.  I gladly accept the offer and I can feel the cool water that hits my head turn warm in the brief time that it takes to run off my neck.

I finish in 2:13:36, good for 3/13 in my age group, 162/265 males and 241/475 overall.  All in all, not a bad day under the conditions.  And a result that does not justify the frowning visage captured by the course photographers.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bighorn Trail Run 30K, June 18, 2011

Courtesy of Mark H. 
And the Winner Is . . .
"First in the age group is Kenneth Swab of Bethesda." The announcer at Sunday's pancake breakfast calls out my name as the winner in the male 50-59 category for the Bighorn Trail Run 50 Mile run.  This is exactly what I had dreamed of when I signed up for the race, figuring that there would not be too many people in my age group and that I would be able to win a rock for finishing in one of the top three positions.  And maybe there would be no one else in my age group and I would finish in first place.

When I get to the announcer I lean in and say, "I'd love to take the rock but I don't qualify because of two things.  First, I'm 60.  And secondly, and more importantly, yesterday I switched to the 30K."

Chicken Fried Steak
Barry, Emaad and I arrive in Billings, MT, early Thursday afternoon.  After some misadventure getting our rental car from Thrifty (I foolishly tried to save a few bucks rather than get my usual rental from Avis) - which turns out to be a Grand Caravan minivan -  we check into our hotel. For sentimental reasons Barry requests that we get a bite to eat at Perkins.  I spy chicken fried steak on the menu and decide that it will be a switch from the usual.  I scrape most of the thick white gravy off of it but finish the steak, corn and side salad.

We then head off to sample some of the local beers. Billings is the microbrew capital of Montana.  After a stop at the Railyard Ale House ("we're not open yet, but since you're here, what will you have?") we go to the adjacent Carter's Brewery and Tap Room, a small brewery next to the train tracks.

Friday morning we meet up with Rebecca and An, and Jennifer and Clay.  With the exception of An who is not running, they, along with Barry and Emaad are planning to run the Bighorn 50K.  All seven of us pile in the  Grand Caravan for breakfast at Stella's, where the pancakes are enormous and Emaad gets a free giant cinnamon bun with a candle because it is his birthday.

After breakfast Rebecca and An and Jennifer and Clay pick up their rental cars and we caravan down the road headed for Sheridan, WY.  On the way we stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield where Custer and 263 of his soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry were killed in a battle against Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.

After touring the battlefield we stop for a lunch.  I'm not feeling hungry and while the others eat, I drink an iced tea.

We drive south for another hour to Sheridan, WY, check into our hotel and go to registration for the Saturday's races.  I chat with one of the volunteers about the condition of the course, which has been altered due to large snowfalls over the winter.  With the exception of the 30K, the courses for the 100-mile, 50-mile and 50K races have been changed, mainly to eliminate the higher altitude parts of the course which still have significant snow or water due to melting snow.

My stomach continues to deteriorate as the day goes on, and by the time of the pasta dinner I can only pick at a spoonful of spaghetti and a small piece of pizza.  Rebecca has bought a small pie for Emaad's birthday and I reluctantly forego having a slice.

I periodically have stomach problems (see my Groundhog 50K report) so I turn in early, hoping that my stomach will do what it usually does, which is to be painfully bloated for several hours and then recover.  But not tonight.  After a couple of hours nausea overcomes me and I vomit what little food is in my stomach.  The evening is a restless one, with trips to the toilet and little sleep.

A Favor to Ask
The alarm goes off at 2:50 a.m. and I realize that I'm in no shape to run 50 miles.  But maybe if I recover some over the next few hours, I could try the 50K or the 30K, which start two hours and four hours, respectively, after the start of the 50 miler.

I drive the twenty miles to Dayton, WY, which is where all the races finish, and the buses take runners on a 90 minute bus ride up into the Bighorn Mountains for the start of the races. The bus for the 6:00 a.m. start of the 50 mile run leaves at 4:00 a.m.and at about 3:30 I'm walking around the parking lot looking for a race official.  I find co-race director Michelle and explain my situation.

"We've never had anyone want to change races on the day of the race," she says, "but I suppose we should learn how.  I can't do it here, but I'll send a text to [co-race director] Cheryl on the mountain and ask her.  Of course, she may be getting some sleep or she may not get the message, so you may just have to go up and ask her in person."

"Thanks," I say, "I realize that you don't have to let me switch as all, so I really appreciate it." With that, I head to the porta-potties and then back to the van to try to get a couple of hours of rest.

Around 5:30 I wake up.  I still don't feel so well, and know that I can't do the 50K. I tell Michelle that I'll wait and see how I feel for the the 30K.  She hasn't heard anything from Cheryl.  Just then, Emaad, Barry, Rebecca, Jennifer and Clay show up for the 50K bus and are surprised to see me.  I explain what's going on and head back to the van to get some more rest.  With me gone, they lobby Michelle to allow me to switch to the 30K.

Shortly after their bus leaves at 6:00 a.m. I exit the van and vomit again.  Then I go back to sleep and wake up close to 8:00,  just in time for the bus to the start of the 30K.

Michelle still hasn't heard from Cheryl, but I figure that I may as well go up and see if I get in the 30K.  It has a generous eleven hour time limit to cover just under 18 miles, and I figure that I can make it, even if I have to walk the entire way.

Change You Can Count On
On the way to the start I sit next to a woman from Sheridan who is doing the 30K for the seventh time.  She's just planning to walk it, and assures me that it can be walked in about five hours.  On the way up the mountain she points out various local sites and alerts me for things to look for while out on the course.

I wait until Cheryl has checked in all the other runners before explaining my situation to her.  There is also another runner who wants to change to the 30K as he apparently missed the bus for his race.  The change is done smoothly and quickly, as she takes my 50 mile bib and gives me a 30K bib.  Each race has color coded bibs and a different range of numbers, both for search and rescue purposes and for finisher prizes.

A Most Beautiful Course
At 10:30, about a half hour after the scheduled start time, we get the 'GO' command, and we are off.  The course starts at about 7500 feet in elevation and heads up hill right away.  It's not steep, but the footing is a bit soggy and there are patches of snow to traverse.  The course is through flowered meadows with sagebrush and scattered patches of forest on either side.

Courtesy of Mark H.
It's uphill so I walk.  There is still snow in a couple of places, but not more than an inch or two and the patches don't last long.  After about 1.5 miles we crest a ridge and start a long gradual downhill.  I run a bit, but I don't have much strength and walk frequently.  My GI-track is still acting up and I start to look for a secluded location to empty whatever still remains in my lower intestines.  Unlike Eastern running where there are plenty of woods to disappear into, the Bighorns are not offering much but low sage brush.  Finally I spot a rock outcropping which provides some cover, and do what I need to do.  Finished, I realize that I don't have any TP and since there are no trees there are no leaves either.

After about five miles we get to the first aid station at Upper Sheep Creek.  I usually eat cookies, potato chips  and candy at aid stations, but today I don't have much of an appetite.  I manage to nibble on a cookie or two, but more out of a sense that I need to eat than from having an appetite.

Shortly after the aid station the course drops down a bit to a two log bridge over a small stream.  On the other side of the stream is "The Haul," a fairly steep climb of about 500 feet to the top of Horse Creek Ridge at maybe 7600 feet elevation.  A six-time veteran of the race told me on the bus ride to the start that it took about 25 minutes to get to the top.  But the climb is less than a mile in length and I get to the top without stopping in about 15 minutes.

Courtesy of Mark H. 
The top of Horse Creek Ridge rewards runners with what has been best described as the "Sound of Music" moment.  A vast meadow stretches into the distance, with views into the Tongue River Canyon and beyond to the horizon.  The trial winds down the meadow.  I run for awhile with a woman wearing a "Title IX K" short, which prompts me to tell her the story of how Rep. Patsy Mink authored Title IX, the landmark 1972 law prohibiting sex-based discrimination education by institutions receiving federal funding. (I was Mrs. Mink's Legislative Director in 2000-01).

We go past some bleached boards, the remains of a flume constructed in the early 20th century to carry logs down to the Tongue River in Dayton.  The same woman who advised me about The Haul had told me that the loggers would attach a red flag to the last log of the week to let the "women of easy virtue" in Dayton know that the loggers would soon be coming to town themselves.

Courtesy of Mark H.
The course continues downward and I continue to alternate walking with running.  I remind myself to drink regularly from my pack.  I don't feel particularly strong, which is not a surprise as I haven't really eaten in 24 hours, but I'm not concerned about finishing as the eleven hour cutoff provides ample time.

During this stretch the first of the 50 mile and 50K runners start to pass me.  I step aside for them as they bound pass.  I see a few 100 milers as well throughout the day.  They tend to fall into two categories.  Some look a bit like zombies; not surprising given that they have been at it for more than 24 hours.  Others look so remarkably fresh that it is hard to imagine that they have already run more than 85 miles or 90 miles.

As we descend, the vistas start to shrink and the canyon begins to narrow. After the aid station at Lower Sheep Creek, around mile 10, the canyon becomes even narrower.  In some places the canyon walls and surrounding mountains are easily 1500 feet high.  Temperatures in the canyon climb as the day goes on.  The Tongue River, fed by the snowmelt is high and its roar is nonstop as we make our way down the single track path.  At one point there has been a rockslide and the trail is covered with large gravel that had slid down from the canyon wall.

At about mile 12.5 the Tongue River Canyon Trailhead Aid station offers water filtered from the river and a selection of fresh fruit.  I sit down in a chair to eat some grapes and drink some water.  Leaving the aid station I leapfrog the four members of the Not Afraid family.  Three generations from Crow Agency, MT are running the 30K together, ranging in age from 57 to 14.  They have been passing me on the course, but I'm quicker through the aid stations.

Leaving the aid station the course continues on a dirt road alongside the river.  After a bit a jeep goes by with a dog in the front and a runner who has dropped from the race sitting in the back.  A little ahead of me the jeep stops and the dog gets out to run alongside the jeep.

The road passes occasional houses.  We are out of the Bighorns now, having descended about 3200 feet from where the race began.  The fields are green and the river has widened out and slowed, but it is still high.  We start to pass signs urging us to run and be strong.  The last sign says "No more annoying signs."

Around mile 15.5 is the last aid station, called Homestretch.  It is at someone's driveway, and a volunteer has a large mister that she uses to cool off runners so inclined.  Despite some misgivings that the mister may be used at other times to apply herbicides or pesticides, I elect for the cooling effect.  I also get a freeze pop, a tradition at this aid station.

In addition to the Not Afraids, there are a surprising number of parent-child duos in the race. I come across John J. and his 14-year old son Michael. They are from Dayton, and since we are on the outskirts of the town, Michael's younger sister has ridden out to accompany them.  

They go on, and I fall in with Dale B. from Casper, WY.  This is his first trail run.  I comment on how beautiful Wyoming is (this is my first visit to the state) and he jokes how the state routed I-80 through the southern part of the state so that casual travelers wouldn't find out about the scenic northern part.  We are mostly walking through Dayton now even though the streets are flat.   As we walk into the park I tell Dale that protocol requires that we run to the finish.  He goes along with it and we trot the last 50 yards or so to the finish line. I finish in 4:46:27.  After crossing the line we are awarded with our 30K finisher's fleece vest.

Fleece vest, shirt, socks, sack and bib.
I go off to get something to eat, as my stomach seems to be returning to normal.  While I'm sitting on the ground in the shade eating, Jennifer finds me, having just finished the 50K.  She goes to get something to eat and returns, but in those few minutes, I've laid down and dozed off.

Rebecca and Clay finish about 23 minutes later and  Emaad and Barry a bit later.  To make me feel better about not being able to run the race I had planned, they all assure me that I ran the most beautiful portion of the course.

- - - - -
Thanks to Mark H., some of whose pictures I've used.  Read his report on the 50K, it's excellent and well illustrated.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Capon Valley 50K, May 7, 2011

I spend Friday afternoon touring Civil War battlefields that figured in Sheridan's Valley Campaign in the Fall of 1864 south of Winchester (Cedar Creek, Fisher's Hill and Tom's Brook).  I'm particularly interested in the first and the last, as Custer fought at them and I'll be visiting Custer's last battle, the Little Big Horn, next month.  In one of those deathbed moments so beloved in the 19th century, Custer held the hand of Confederate General Stephen Ramsuer as he died from his wounds at Cedar Creek.  A key portion of Fishers Hill has been preserved by the Civil War Trust and has a walking path with an excellent interpretive brochure.

I stop at Big Daddy's in Stephens City for some delicious barbecue, then head to Yellow Spring for packet pickup at the Ruritan Club.  They have a drawing for several door prizes and I win a small, hand-hooked mat of a sheep.

At the start
Race day conditions are about perfect with temperatures in the 50s, headed for the low 60s.  There is a chance for showers later in the day.  It's just a bit cool for me and I elect for a long sleeve shirt knowing that I'll be pushing the sleeves up before I've gone too far.

I meet Kate A. at the Ruritan Club where I down a freshly made pancake that covers the entire plate and have a glass of orange juice.  Breakfast sets me back $1.25, but as I hand the volunteers $2, someone is getting a $.75 cup of coffee, so I tell them to use my change to pay for his drink.

Unlike the three other years I have run Capon, there is no prayer or National Anthem before the start.  The approximately 150 runners walk outside to the start and someone must say 'go' as we begin to run.

Kate and I run easily near the back of the pack. I chat with a runner from the Pagoda Pacers of Reading, PA who I had also run with at Bull Run Run 50M.  Kate has a cast on her right wrist due to a bruised bone that has refused to heal since January, but says it is lighter than carrying a water bottle.

I'm familiar with the course from previous years and tell Kate what to expect as we go along.    A couple of miles into the run we come to the first stream crossing.  The water is up a bit from rain the previous week, and  knowing that this is only the first of  numerous crossings to come, I run through it rather than try to pick my way over it.

We soon arrive at Lynn G.'s horse barn, the first aid station (mile 3.4).  Someone calls my name.  It is Lynn F., someone I've known from our days working on Capitol Hill.  She has a house nearby, but her husband is a college president and normally she is away at graduation in May.  But this time she is in Yellow Spring, and we exchange greetings. I'd like to linger and chat, but the clock is running and Kate has blasted through the aid station and I need to hustle to catch up with her.

Sun-struck Kate cruising along
We cruise along easily. I feel like I can run faster, but Kate is good at pacing and I decide to go with her rather than my a all-too-often fly-and-die strategy.

Kate spots the remains of a deer carcass by the side of the trail.  All that remains are bones - the ribcage is still intact -and some hide.  She pulls out her camera and snaps a picture. "My boys will love this one," she says.

I spot a runner ahead with what look likes a Bighorn Trail shirt.  I ask for confirmation and Phil H. tells me that he has done it previously and is going out there this year as well, just as I am.  He is doing the 50K while I'm doing the 50M.  He tells me that he had previously tried the 50M and missed one of the cutoffs.  We run together for awhile and he compares the hills of Capon to those of Bighorn.  Just past the water stop (mile 6.8) the course goes up a steep incline.  "This is like 'The Wall' at Bighorn," he informs me.  "But it goes on for a couple of hours," he adds.  The climb at Capon is over in ten minutes.

As we go down the steep downhill under the powerlines about eight miles into the race, we catch up with Michelle P. and  Amanda D.  It was Michele who convinced me that I could run Capon as my first ultra in 2007, perhaps because she forgot to mention that it involved significant ascents and descents.  The descent under the powerlines is still a bit frightening to me as it involves loose rocks and an eroded path, but not as bad as it was the first time I saw it in 2007.

Field and sky on the Capon Valley course
We splash across the river to get to the next aid station (mile 10.5).  I've left a drop bag there with shoes and socks, but I know from the earlier stream crossings that there will be more to come, so I don't bother changing anything.

In the next mile or so we crisscross Back Creek while we head uphill.  The course levels out as we run through and past fields, then past the old grass airstrip before heading down the short steep paved road to the next aid station (mile 14.4).

While Kate and I are generally running together, she spends almost no time at aid stations, refueling herself with GUs.  I on the other hand, eat chocolate chip cookies, M&Ms, Pringles and Coke at the aid stations, so I have to chase after her after leaving each one.

I provide commentary and coming attractions on the course for her.  Just before entering the stretch to what I call the 'spooky house' I nearly stumble and fall over in one of the creek crossings.  But only my shorts have gotten a bit wet, and Kate derides my claim to falling in.  Apparently only getting submerged save for your left ear counts for her, based on Mark Z.'s mishap at Bull Run earlier in the year.

We head up the road past the 'video surveillance' signs.  Off to the side is a collection of rusting auto hulks, looking worse than when I saw them two years ago.  Past the house where the fellow sits and politely responds to our hello.  Once past the three slowing disintegrating Peugeot sedans the trail starts up the long climb (maybe 500-600 feet) to an old logging or fire road that runs parallel to the top of the ridge.  The level section is both muddy and rocky.

I reach down and toss a stick off the trail.  "You are still a teenager," Kate jokes to me.  I thought I was doing a good deed by grooming the trail, and Kate thinks I'm just playing! But maybe it is a bit of both.  I tell her that what she said gives me a promotion from the age that Sandy usually says I act. 

I dash ahead a bit to get to the next aid station (mile 18.7) in advance of Kate so that I can refill the borrowed Nathan pack that I'm using.  Kate catches me and we make good time down the long downhill.  The course has been slightly rerouted here, as there are logging operations taking place.

More stream crossings and mud greet us, and we take turns taking action photos of each of us running through the streams.  She'r reminding me to keep drinking, and truth be told, it is easy to forget to drink without having a bottle in my hand.  In addition, I lose track of 

As we approach the Capon Springs Road crossing  there are several boys playing with toy guns by the side of the path.  They helpfully tell us that the road crossing is just ahead.  One volunteers to escort us to the crossing, and so we have an 'armed' escort.  The boy stops at a table where his father, a volunteer member of the rescue squad is sitting, while his colleagues make sure that we get safely across the lightly traveled road for the quarter mile stretch of dirt road to the next to last aid station (mile 24.4).

The gravestone of Jemima
Kate barely stops at the aid station, but I get my usual refreshments and also remove my pack to refill it.  By the time I head up the hill, Kate is barely in sight.  Try as I may, I can't narrow the gap, and the climb up this next-to-last long hill is tough.  After a brief flat section it turns steeply downhill to the final stream crossing of the day.

I see Kate across the stream and headed up the other side for the last steep climb.  But I'm seriously running out of energy and have to stop several times to gather my strength.  By the time I reach the top of the ridge, Kate is nowhere to be seen.
And then it starts to rain.  Just a few drops and hard to feel in the woods, but definitely rain.  I'm on the lookout for the solitary tombstone of Jemima, and I spot it and take a picture.  The inscription reads: "JEMIMA/wife of/Davis Farmer./Born/Dec. 20, 182?/Died/Aug. 9, 1883/-- years 7 mos" With the climbing behind me I regain my strength and can run again.

The rain is getting heavier approaching the barn (mile 27.6) for the second time.  Leaving it and heading down the short stretch of gravel road, the rain is now being blown into my face.  It is cool and I'm glad that I didn't change to a short-sleeve shirt, as I pull down the sleeves to keep warm. In less than another five minutes the rain stops.

Capon Valley swag 
I had long given up my hope to have finished in 6:30, and now I've given up hope of finishing in seven hours.  The last mile I run with a pair of runners, Bob F., running his sixth Capon (PR 5:30) and 22nd ultra and Nicole K, running her first ultra.  We talk about our times. None of us are concerned.

We cross the bridge over the Capon River, cross the same field we crossed hours earlier, retrace our steps up Capon River Road and finish at the Ruritan Club.

I finish in 7:06:36, 106/148 overall; 72/94 males; 4/8 in my age group.  It is my second fastest Capon finish of the four times I've run it, although closer to my slowest (7:10) than my fastest (6:57).

Kate gets a plastic bag at the last aid station to protect her cast and finishes in 6:57. I enjoy the chicken dinner at the Ruritan Club and even though I don't have much on an appetite for the chicken, I do have two desserts.
- - - - -
For more on my experiences at Capon Valley 50Ks, read my 2007 and  2008 Capon Valley reports.  My 2009 report is not online.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bull Run Run 50 Mile, April 9, 2011

April Showers Bring . . .
Friday brings rain, promising sloppy conditions for the Bull Run Run 50 Mile race put on by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club.  I'm less concerned about sloppy conditions than I am about rain on Saturday, so I prepare by spraying Scotchgard on my hat and lightweight windbreaker.  My thought is that I might be able to ward off getting my head, body and arms wet.  For my drop bag at mile 16.6 I pack a complete change of clothes except shoes and include a towel and a Mylar space blanket.

Mike E. shows up at my door promptly at 4:15 a.m. Saturday morning for a ride to the race.  We make very good time on the 32 mile drive to the start at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park in Clifton, Virginia, pick up our race packets and go to the dining hall where we meet up with other runners.  I have a piece of chocolate chip muffin that is available to the runners.  The weather looks like it will be OK, with a chance of some light mist or drizzle early, and gradually improving as the day goes on.  It is a bit cool, though, with temperatures in the middle 40s at the start, so I start the day wearing both a long sleeve and short sleeve shirt, tights, shorts, gloves and a hat.

I meet Mark Z., Yi D. and Larry B., my teammates on MCRRC Absolute Zeroes.  Our only chance to win a team prize is for all of us to finish and for our combined time to be the slowest of the 28 teams entered.  Kate A. is also there and is motivated by a comment I had made that Mark could run races faster if he did not stay with her.  She has taken this as a slight and is determined to set things straight on the course.  I start off with them, but soon leave them behind.

. . . Mud
At precisely 6:30 a.m. the race begins.  About a mile in, a fox charges directly at the file of runners on the single track through the woods, until it looks up and slams on its brakes.  It briefly looks left and right, then turns around and dashes back over the ridge. "Probably going to text his fox friends to beware of the crazily dressed people in the woods," someone wisecracks.

Soon we come to the first creek crossing.  Normally, the creeks are easy to get over without getting one's feet wet by hopping from one circular concrete stepping stone to another, but Friday's rain has got the creeks over the stones.  Nothing to do but get the feet wet and try not to fall in.

About six miles into the race we come to the second stream crossing.  The water in this creek is high enough that mud from the runners' shoes is clouding the water and making it hard to see the crossing stones.  I decide to follow some other runners crossing through the stream itself, which is about mid-thigh high on the theory that it is better to get a bit wetter but cross on better footing to reduce the chances of falling in.

To be safe, I take my cell phone, sealed in a baggie, from my shorts pocket, and hold it up.  I step into the stream, but the current is stronger than I anticipated, and it knocks me off balance and I fall into the water up to my armpits.  I manage to stumble across the stream, but I'm thoroughly soaked.

I strip off my shirts and wring them out, hoping to be able to avoid hypothermia over the next twelve miles before we get back to Hemlock where I can change my clothes.  I put the long-sleeve shirt back on but tuck the short-sleeve one into my belt.

I pass through the Centreville Road aid station, grab a couple of chocolate chip cookies and a mini-whoopie pie and head out through the low-lying portion of the course for the turn -around amidst fields of bluebells.  Alas, the bluebells are not yet in full bloom as they were last year.

But the mud is in full bloom.  Just about every step of the 4.4 miles out and back between the Centreville Road aid station and the turnaround consists of slippery, clinging mud. And I discover that I've lost one of the gloves that I had tucked into my belt as well.

Long segments of the trail seem to be shallow lakes themselves.  Every step requires care, and even then, one's foot moves left or right, forward or backward as it comes down.  Trying to run on the edge of the path to stay out of the mud puts one on  a tilted surface.  I pay the price for trying that, and fall full on my left side in the mud, covering myself from my ankle to my shoulder.

On the way back to Hemlock Overlook, the streams that we have to recross are noticeably lower.  I successfully use the stepping stones at the stream I fell in.

Heading along, I catch up to a women telling another one about a race she had taken part in.  She's telling how she had to run alongside this creek with cold water, while water ran across the trail from a hill above the trail.  All this while running uphill.

"Please tell me the name of that race," I say, "so that I can avoid it."

"Bighorn Trail Run," she replies.

"No!" I scream, "I'm signed up to go out there in June."

She assures me that it is beautiful.  And she was doing the 100 miler, and as I'm only doing the 50 miler, I only have to run down the section she had to run up (in the night) and then down.

When I signed up for Bull Run, I'd harbored a secret ambition to finish under 11 hours, knocking about 16 minutes off my time in 2010.  But the mud is slowing me down, and my splits through the first few aid stations don't bode well for reaching that goal.  Still, it is early, and the course after returning to Hemlock Overlook (mile 16.6) should be less muddy.

Change We Can Believe In
At the aid station I head for my drop bag.  It's in a picnic pavilion, and I'd put it on the furthest table so I could do what I now set out to do:  a complete change of clothing.  I strip off the still wet shirt and replace it with a dry long-sleeve one.  I sit down, take off shoes and socks, lay the towel over my lap and remove my shorts and tights.   The temperature has risen a bit and the sky seems a bit lighter and I gamble that dry shorts will be sufficient the rest of the day.  I put dry socks on, even if my shoes are still a bit damp grab a different hat and head out.  It takes about five minutes to change.

Knee Pain
It is 4.5 miles to the next aid station, and my left knee begins to hurt. The pain is toward the medial side, so I figure it is not an ITB problem.  But it starts to slow me down, and I decide that I'll take the rest of the day aid station to aid station, as it will be wiser to quit than risk serious damage that could jeopardize going to Bighorn.  It is also clear that 11 hours is out of the question.

Through the Marina aid station (mile 21.1), where the volunteers are grilling hot cheese and ham and cheese wraps to go with the usual cookies, candy, boiled potatoes and assorted other goodies.  Next stop is the Wolf Run Shoals aid station (mile 26.1) where the volunteers always dress to a theme.  Last year, they were characters from the Wizard of Oz.  This year, they are dressed from Toy Story.

Now my knee is really bothering me, particularly on the uphills.  I'm not just walking them but walking them and favoring my left side, so that I am actually limping up them.  Strangely, the knee isn't really bad going downhill or on flats.  I run a bit with a doctor who has just helped another runner by tying a band around her knee, and he says that he can practice field medicine on me as well.  I decline the offer.

Soon I look back and see Kate A. approaching.  She gives me a couple of Advil for my pain and then moves ahead.  She tells me that she has left Mark a ways behind, and that he had fallen in the same creek that I fell in, only that only his left ear remained dry from his dunking.  Her race report has more details on his fall and her day.

I spend some time running with Caroline W.  She seemingly knows every runner on the course, and has words of encouragement for everyone, even those she doesn't know.  She doesn't allow me to lapse into any kind of pity party over my knee.  The Advil seem to be kicking in, and the pain, while present on the uphills seems to have lessened a bit.

At the aid station heading into the Do-Loop (mile 32.5), I contemplate the pizza choices: plain, pepperoni, and ham and pineapple. This last is an affront to my Brooklyn-born Italian-American heritage, but I help myself to a slice of the pepperoni pie.

In the loop, I run past the carcasses of two abandoned cars and look at the crew boats on the Occoquon River.  I chat with a runner who had a heart attack 18 months ago, and received two stents and a quadruple bypass as a result.  His doctor told him that his running had strengthened his heart and that without that, the heart attack would have killed him.

When I get back to the Do Loop aid station there is one slice of pepperoni pizza left.  I hesitate, but a volunteer tells me to go ahead and take it, and I don't need additional encouragement.

Through the Fountainhead aid station for the second time (mile 37.9) I tweet, "knee sore but bearable. Can run flats and downhill."  As I pass a woman she says, "Are you Ken?"  It is Jennifer Z., who I have exchanged emails with (she is a friend of Mark Z.), but have not met.  Her left knee is bothering her, but strangely, hers hurts more on the downhills, while mine hurts on the uphills.  We chat was we amble along, running where the course is flat, but also doing a fair amount of walking.

We get back to Wolf Run Shoals aid station (mile 39.9) and I have half of an ice cream sandwich, one of that aid station's specialties.  I consult my watch and pace card and tweet that it "looks like 11:30 is not gonna happen."  Given that I had hopes for sub-11 hours, I should have been discouraged, but I'm feeling like I'm making relentless forward progress, and given the mud and my knee, I'm OK with doing that.

Kicking It In
About a mile from the Marina aid station (mile 44.9) one can see the bridge carrying Yates Ford Road over Bull Run. This perks me up, and I pick up the pace.  The climb over the rocks under the bridge is slow and painful to my knee.  I wait for Jennifer at the aid station and then urge her to hurry along.  I've looked at my pace card and think there might be a chance to finish under eleven and a half hours after all.

I don't feel tired, and with the exception of walking uphills, I'm pushing the pace.  I'm passing people, just as I did last year in my quest for 11:15.  Just like last year, I'm urging people to get a move on, because "You have a chance to finish in 11:30."  But the rocky sections are difficult to clamber over for my knee, and I let out more than one yelp of pain in so doing.

I keep waiting for the turn away from the trail alongside Bull Run and up the hill to the finish, but at each bend it isn't there, and when it comes, it's clearly too late for 11:30.  But no matter. I move along with another pair of runners, and don't even try to out sprint them at the end and they finish three seconds ahead of me. I cross the line in 11:34:19, good for 250th out of 320 finishers.  In my first appearance in the Male Super Senior division, I finish 13th of 19.

Kate gets her revenge, finishing nine minutes ahead of me.  Jennifer, with her bad knee and her quads complaining, finishes her first 50 miler in 11:49.  She has to walk backwards downhill on the way to her car.

Mark, with his hamstring bothering him, finishes in 11:55.  That time clinches last place for the Absolute Zeros, and each team member receives a BRR Team Champion blanket for being the slowest team.

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Read my 2010 Bull Run Run report here.

Read my 2009 Bull Run Run report here.