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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K, March 5, 2011

Desperately Seeking Rebecca
"I'm just crossing 495," Rebecca texts in response to my inquiry of her location. That's clearly wrong since 495 is  not on the way from her house to my house to carpool with me and Barry S to the start of the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K.    Rebecca recognizes that she is chronically late, so she asked me to tell her an earlier time to be there but since she knew it was an earlier time, it didn't work and she is running late.  In a couple of minutes she zooms up, we pile in my car and head off to the finish to catch the bus to the start of the low-key point-to-point race.  And since I chronically plan to arrive early anyway, we get there in plenty of time.

On the bus, everyone puts their entry fee and entry form in the envelope that gets passed around as that is the procedure that has been used in the past.  But when we get to the registration area, we're told that this year we are to hand in payment and form individually, setting off a bit of a scramble to sort out the 35-40 checks, cash and forms.  But there is plenty of time and everyone gets registered and gets their number before Race Director Ed Schultze issues the Go! command at 8 a.m.

It's a bit chilly in the morning and I'm wearing a long sleeve shirt over a short sleeved one, along with gloves, tights, a buff around my neck that I've pulled over my head as a balaclava and a hat on top of that.  I start off with Emaad B.who is running the marathon.  The only difference between the two courses is that the 50K runners will do a loop around Clopper Lake to add sufficient distance to make 50K.

Within a mile I pull away from Emaad and fall in with Michelle P. and Lorrin H.  They are running the marathon and I briefly think that staying with them may be a mistake as it will make me go out too fast.  On the other hand, I'm used to going out to fast and then trying to hold on, a rationalization for bad pacing.  Soon I've warmed up and shed the long sleeve shirt, buff and gloves.

We cross the rocks over Seneca Creek at about mile five.  There is a rope across the stream to steady oneself, but one foot slips in anyway.  Getting wet feet is always more feared than the consequences warrant, and the day isn't cold enough to cause any concern.

We get to the first aid station at Brink Road, around mile 7 and Race Director Ed is there pouring drinks for the runners.

About a mile and a half later the trail crosses Watkins Mill Road.  As I approach the trail head on the south side of the road, Ed is there again, this time carrying a satchel and running down the trail past me.  He had a report of a runner in distress and is headed to provide aid.  After about a half mile I catch up to him and overhear him talking on his mobile.  He is headed back to access the runner from a different direction.

What's Yellow and Read All Over (on the Trail)?
Shortly before the aid station at Route 355, about mile 11, the first of the inevitable signs appear.  The signs are the brainchild of Don L., master of the Route 28 aid station, at mile 25.5 of the 50K.  It is of a goldfish, or perhaps a goldfish cracker.  Soon the second  sign comes in sight, with what looks to me to be a yellow rubber ducky.  "It's a Peep," another runner says, and we good naturedly debate what is the correct interpretation. (Don L. later confirms that it is a Peep.)  On the other side of route 355 is the third sign, a banana peel.  That clinches it for me; the theme at the Route 28 Aid Station is yellow, I proclaim.  The fourth sign, a glowing  yellow light bulb is further evidence I think, but other runners are not entirely persuaded.

I reach the aid station at Clopper Lake, about mile 15, and start the loop around the lake.  Shortly into the loop, I decide that it is a bit too cool for short sleeves and swap the short sleeve shirt for the long sleeved one.  I run for a while with Kevin O'C. of Virginia.  We feel each other out about our ages, and he turns out to be two years older than me.  He is also the race director of the Swinging Bridge 35K and 50K in Cumberland, VA.  After leaving him I catch up with Michele M. and we chat before I move on.

Back to the Clopper Lake aid station at about mile 19, I rejoin the trial to head for the finish about 12 miles downstream.  After crossing Riffleford Road, I smell what I think at first is a barbecue, but then realize that it is the odor from the fire, driven by high winds and partly caused by exploding Pepco transformers, that swept through the area three weeks before.  For almost the next two miles, the grass has been scorched, in some places on both sides of the creek, and some tree trunks are blacked as high as eight to ten feet off the ground.  Spring is coming, though, and new shoots of green can be seen sticking up through the burnt grass.

And even here, there are more of Don's entertaining signs.  I chuckle out loud at the "Yellow Fever: Catch it!" one, and smile at  "Yellow cake: If it's good enough for uranium, it's good enough for our runners!"

After crossing Route 118 I spot Barry up ahead.  "Hey, Custer," I shout, "I'm coming to get you."  Barry spins around and strikes a mock kung-fu pose. "Martial arts won't do you any good at the Little Big Horn," I yell and then have to explain to a puzzled near-by runner that we are going out to run the Bighorn Trail Runs in Wyoming in June, and plan to pay a visit to the Little Bighorn Battlefield while in the area. Barry says that Emaad and Rebecca are together a little ways ahead.

I'm feeling pretty good, walking most of the uphills and running the downhills.  Don's signs are increasing in frequency as the aid station gets closer. Beyond Blackrock Mill on sign asks, "1 mile to Mellow Yellow / Are you sure you're not hallucinating?" and another promises "Yellow tofu: Not nearly as bad tasting as yellow cardboard!"

Sure enough, runners to the Route 28 aid station at mile 25.5 are greeted with: "Welcome to Mellow Yellow! / Sorry we're all out of hallucinogenic banana peels. / All that's left is sugary [stuff]."

Don only provides a single cup for runners to use, and in a moment of unusual delicacy, I pour Coke directly into my mouth rather than use the cup.

Emaad, running the marathon, is at the aid station talking on his mobile phone. "C'mon," I urge him, but he is in no hurry to leave.

Desperately Seeking Rebecca 2
He tells me he and Rebecca reached the aid station together and that she has left.  Maybe I can catch her, I think, although she can run fast when she wants to.  On the other hand, prior to the race she had talked about dropping out at Route 28 so maybe she is a bit tired.

Leaving the aid station is Don's final sign, and one worth a final laugh: "Next aid station in 6.5 [sic] miles. Color theme: Soylent Green."

I push on, alternating periods of running with an occasional walk, particularly on uphills.  The trail has mile markers every half mile and they steadily count down the distance remaining.

Reaching the final aid station at Berryville Road, around mile 30, Rebecca is nowhere to be seen, for good reason.  She will finish her marathon distance more than eight minutes ahead of me.

No matter.  I get across Hooker's Branch without getting my feet wet, go up and down the last few wooded hills to Seneca Road, then head down the packed dirt and gravel of Tschiffley Mill Road to the finish.  I'm in the company of Marina B. and Lisa J. but I can't keep up the pace and with a half mile to go tell them that I need to walk.  After a brief walk, I resume running to the finish, crossing the line in 6:32:41, 96th of 119 male finishers, 135 of 168 overall, at a pace of 12:39 per mile.

I'm quite pleased.  Continuing a trend from trail races last year, I've knocked more than 32 minutes off of last year's SCGT 50K time.
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To read my report on the 2010 Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K, click here.