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.
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To read my report on the 2010 Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K, click here.