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.