Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K - November 10, 2012

Earned, not given.
Winner!
"And the winner in the men's 60 and older age group is Ken . . .,"  Race Director Tom D. peers at a slip of paper in his hand. He starts again, "The men's 60 and over age group winner is Ken  . . ." and pauses again.  I stand up and start walking toward him. "Swab," I say, "Ken Swab."

Two Goals
This is the third year I've run the three-year old race.  The first year was the first and only time I had run under six hours for a 50K: finishing in an official time of 5:59:58.95 or barely a second under six hours.

Last year I ran without a watch and was disappointed to run 6:07 when I hoped to better my 2010 result.  I was even more disappointed to see that the winner in the 60 and up age group ran 5:59, a time I had hoped to better.

Following my Marine Corps Marathon PR of 4:23 two weeks before Rosaryville I felt that I could go under six hours and that I had a shot at the age group award.

Leading up to the race I told people that I would be racing, not running it.  What I didn't them them was that I had to develop a plan for it.

Rebecca contemplates
how many drop bags to use
The course consists of a road section of about six tenths of a mile leading to a 10-mile loop of mostly flat to gently rolling dirt track without much in the way of rocks or roots.  Repeat the loop three times with aid stations at approximately the entry to the loop and about midway through, then retrace the road section back to the start-finish line.  The simple plan, I figure, is to run each loop in two hours, including the outbound and inbound stems in the first and third loop.

On the Way
Rebecca R. shows up at my house about 645 on Saturday morning for our 45 minute carpool to the race.  The weather promises a beautiful fall day, with cool temperatures early climbing into the high 50s as the day goes on.  Rebecca gets out of her car and begins to transfer her bags to my car - three in one hand and three in the other.  She stows them in the car and then goes back and gets the final item she is bringing along - a 2.2 pound panettone, the Italian holiday cake.   I have two bags - one with post-race clothes and the second with gels and an extra shirt.  But the second is along mostly as a drop bag than a carrier of supplies.

On the way we chat amiably and I remind Rebecca that today is a racing, not running day for me. And then I realize that my unconscious has formulated a plan that it is now announcing.
Jeanne prepares for
 the National Anthem

One Plan
A couple of days earlier I had been leafing through a running magazine and came across a column providing advice to a first-time 100-miler who wanted to run a competitive race.  The column provided some suggestions from ultrarunner great Karl Meltzer who advised the neophyte to not to try to run negative splits so that he would have something in reserve for the second 50 miles.  This sound advice had resonated with me and I told Rebecca that my plan was to run the first loop in 1:55, the second in 2:00 and the third in 2:05.  If I could hit those marks, I'd finish under six hours.

Loop One
For the third year in a row, Jeanne Lou Who sings the National Anthem and the race starts promptly at 8:00 a.m. (Jeanne then jumps in her car, drives to Chesapeake Beach where she sings the National Anthem at the start of the Pets for Vets 5K and runs the race before returning to Rosaryville to hang out at an aid station and the finish line.)

Ken and Rebecca on the first loop
(Photo by Jon Valentine)
Immediately I have a problem.  In my meticulous planning for my racing I forgot to properly tie my shoe laces.  Rebecca and I run the approximately .6 mile to the location of the first aid station where the course enters the trail with my laces flapping around.  We move to the side while I retie them and then get on the trail.  Since it is mostly single track we have to wait for appropriate locations to ask runners who passed us while I was stopped tying my shoes to move right so we can pass them.  This takes time and energy and is not an auspicious way to start an effort for a PR.

It's a beautiful day, though, and we are enjoying the park, the weather and the company.  As is usual, we chat with other runners who we overtake or who overtake us.  We share experiences with a runner wearing a Bighorn Trail shirt, which we had done in 2011.  He ran the tough 100 mile event there, as well as two other 100 milers that year.  After a brief chat, he says, "Gotta go now," and takes off.


About four miles in my left foot catches a rock or a branch and I pitch over to the right. I manage to tuck my shoulder in, hit the ground, roll to the right, pop up, and while continuing to run point ahead and shout, "Forward!"  Rebecca asks me if I'm alright.  I tell her I am, but check my pockets and tell her that I think I lost a couple of gels.

"These gels?" she asks, handing the missing gels to me.

At the mid-loop aid station a volunteer tops up my bottle, I grab potato chips and chocolate chip cookies and keep moving.  I walk while I eat, for today is not a day for schmoozing at aid stations.


Follow the arrows on the pie plates
(Photo by Jon Valentine)
Rebecca is right behind me.  We pick up another runner and the three of us continue to run on.

Suddenly I hear a thud behind me.  I turn around and Rebecca is picking herself up from the ground.  She has leaves stuck in her hair, making her look a bit like a woodland princess.  But she has dirt on her forehead and her nose is a bit bruised.  She has face planted directly into the trail.  She gets up, pronounces her nose "not broken," and brushes the leaves from her hair.  The other runner offers her a handkerchief and Rebecca brushes off her face.  She takes inventory of the rest of herself, including a bit of a scrape on her knee and pronounces herself good to continue.

The rest of the loop proceeds uneventfully for us but we do pass one runner who is using a branch for a crutch while a volunteer radios for assistance.

As we reach the aid station at the start of the loop I look at my watch. 1:53. Right on schedule

Loop Two
Looking happy in the second loop
(Photo by Jon Valentine)
We both go to our drip bags. I shed my hat and buff and change my long sleeve shirt for a short sleeved one.  Rebecca is headed to the porta-potty to change out of her tights.

"Gotta go," I say and she waves me on.

Not more than a couple of miles into the loop a voice behind says "on your left" and I jump to the right to let the leader go past.  A short blur with a pony tail, tattoos on both shoulders, a running singlet and she's gone in a flash.  I've gone maybe 13 miles and the leader is on the last lap, about ten mile ahead of me.

In just about the same place where I fell during the first lap, I repeat the performance: left foot trips, tuck and roll to the right, bounce up.  I'm alone this time so I take a bit of time checking for any damage.  I landed a bit more heavily on my right shoulder this time and I've opened a second cut on my right knee but there isn't any serious damage and I'm off running without hesitation.

Reaching the mid-loop aid station I take a split on my watch. Fifty three minutes.  It will give me a baseline to compare on the third lap, I figure. As before I get a refill, grab chips and cookies and get going.

By this point in the race the 133 runners (120 will finish) are pretty much spread out over the course and with the exception of occasionally passing a runner or two or being passed I'm pretty much running alone.  But since I'm more interested in time than touring - and this my third time on the course - I'm not put out.

Watch out for bikers
(Photo by Jon Valentine)
Finally the next race leader flies past me. "You're second overall," I yell in encouragement, "and first male."  A short while later another guy passes me and I give him a report on his position as second male and third overall.  Only when I finish do I find out that the winner, who I had somehow taken for a woman, is a male.

I come out of the woods for the second time of the day, cross the road and get to the aid station.  I've done the second loop in 1:53, seven minutes ahead of my goal.  I'm through two loops in 3:47, eight minutes ahead of my target.

Loop Three
After refilling my bottle and getting the potato chips and chocolate chip cookies I dive into my drop bag for a dry shirt.  In no time I'm back on the course.  Not 30 seconds out of the aid station I realize that I forgot to pick up the additional gels that I had put there for the third lap.

I hesitate a step and calculate whether it is worth the additional time to go back for them.  Adequate hydration, nutrition and electrolyte replenishment is an integral part of my race plan.  Hydration is not a problem as the temperatures are in the 50s and although the day is sunny, most of the course is in the woods providing shade.  And with an aid station every five miles my bottle never gets more than 3/4 empty.  I have Succeed! salt tablets with me and took the first one two hours into the race, and plan on additional ones every hour thereafter.  My plan for the gels is to take one every 45 minutes, and I've been doing that, but now I don't have any because I forgot to pick them up from the drop bag.  And I'm a few minutes overdue for one at 3:45.  A quick calculation shows that I'm scheduled to take two more after that during this loop, when I'll need them the most.

But I decide that rather than lose time going back I'll press on and hope that I can prosper without them.

Within a mile I come up on a runner whose walking up one of the rolling inclines on the course.  He's eating a gel..

"Any chance you have an extra gel you can spare," I ask.  "I don't want one if you need them for later, but I'd be much obliged if you could spare one."

"Sure," he says, "I don't need them."  He hands me one.  "You want more than one," he asks, "I'm pretty much done running for day.  Mostly going to walk it in."

I'd like two more, I think.  I say, "Thanks for the one.  That's all I need. I don't want to leave you short."

I'm taking short walk breaks on the uphills but I feel pretty good.  I successfully get past the place where I've fallen on the first two loops and feel a sense of accomplishment for staying upright.

Soon I'm to the mid-loop aid station for the third time.  I check my watch.  Fifty seven minutes this loop compared to 53 on the second loop.  Given some time back, but it's in the plan, plus I'm a few minutes ahead of plan based on when I entered the loop.

Approaching the finish
wearing the third shirt of the day
(Photo by Jon Valentine)
Time to be mentally tough for the last five or six miles.  I push a bit.  I've noticed on the second loop that the trail has some mile markers of the back of some of the trail posts if you know where to look.  I start looking for them and computing my mile splits as a means of keeping up the pace.

I also notice a group of two or three runners a bit behind me.  One of them looks to be a man of a certain age - my age.  I start to feel like the antelope being pursued by the lions.  In my mind, the hunt is on, and I'm the prey.  It is not a good feeling, but I use it as an incentive to keep pushing.  I've gone too long to get run down in the final miles.

Finally I'm down the final slope in the woods and turn onto the road for the final .6 mile to the finish.

A check of the watch shows that the third loop took 1:59.  That means, according to the plan, that I need to finish this road section in six minutes to hit my 2:05 goal for the third part of the plan. On the other hand, it is uphill and it took six minutes to run it downhill and before running more than 30 miles.

Posing with the bling
(Photo by Jon Valentine)
A male runner catches up to me.  I eye him, but it's obvious that he isn't anywhere near my age group.  He goes on, I briefly catch up to him, but the finish is uphill following a downhill and I let him go.  A look behind shows no one near.

Crossing the finish line in 5:53:49 I'm pleasantly surprised to receive a finisher's medal, the fist time the race has given medals.

And shortly thereafter, I get the age-group award, finishing first  among five in the 60+ age group and beating the next closest male by almost 19 minutes - the same man who beat me in 2011.

It was about as perfectly planned and executed race as possible.  My first loop was 1:53 compared to my goal of 1:55 (actually 1 minute 46 seconds ahead); the second loop 1:53 compared to a goal of 2:00 (6 minutes 9 seconds ahead) and 2:06 for the third loop versus a goal of 2:05 (behind by 1 minute 21 seconds). Overall pace was 11:23 per mile.

Rebecca
Bemedaled Rebecca at the finish
Having collected my medal, got my mug, and posed for pictures I began to wonder what had happened to Rebecca.  Last year she and I ran together and finished within a minute or two of each other.  As the clock ticked on she was nowhere to be seen.

Had her fall had a delayed effect?  There were no sounds of ambulances or reports of runners being taken to emergency treatment so nothing serious seemed to have overtaken her.

Finally she came into view on the road and crossed the finish line in 6:48:28.  She explained that she mostly walked the third loop because of stomach distress brought on by mixing the Accelerade powder she carried with her with Gatorade rather than with water like she usually did and for what the powder was designed for.  She really had no explanation for her behavior other than a smile, a shoulder shrug and an "it seemed like a good idea at the time."


Swag: Hat, Medal, Bib and the Mug.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Marine Corps Marathon - October 28, 2012

Concern about the effect that Hurricane Sandy may have on the running of  the 37th Marine Corps Marathon leads to much discussion during the week leading up to the race.  Race morning is cloudy and the drive to the MCRRC Hospitality Suite in Rosslyn sees a few misty drops on the windshield.  Before we set out on the mile walk to the start line, Rebecca R. and I go outside and check the weather.  It isn't raining but we decide that it will be prudent to carry jackets in case the weather changes.

Back in the suite I load up my Race Ready shorts with gels.  As I go to tighten the drawstring on the shorts, it pulls out of them.  Someone suggests pinning the shorts to my shorts and I put pins on either side.  I tie the lightweight windbreaker around my waist.

A group eight of us walk toward the start but gradually we become separated into smaller and smaller groups until only Jim Y. and I are together.  Since we approached toward the start line we  must walk past it and then away from it so that can get far enough back to be in a group appropriate for our pace.  We stop once we reach the 4 hour pace pylon and plan to wait there a bit to let faster runners cross the start line ahead of us.

While we wait I spot an wrapped disposable plastic poncho by the side of the road.  Not one to pass up a bargain, I pick up the 2x3 inch packet and slip it into another pocket of my shorts.

Promptly at 7:55 a.m. the howitzer marking the beginning of the race booms and the race starts.  Jim and I wait until we see the 4 hour pacer pass us and we start walking toward the start line. In about three and a half minutes we cross the line and begin to run.

Wardrobe Malfunction
Immediately I sense a problem.  Now that I'm running the weight of the gels and the poncho are pulling down  my shorts in the rear.  The pins on the sides are doing their job but the rear is sagging ominously.  Untying the jacket, I transfer the contents of my shorts pockets into the jacket pockets.  This takes enough weight off the shorts that they stay about my waist.

Through the streets of Rosslyn I pass several runners wearing fatigues and full packs.  I joke to them that they really didn't need to carry their things with them as they could have used the bag drop service and had the packs delivered to the finish for them.

On the uphill section around mile two we run pass one of the handcrank wheelchair racers working his way uphill. He's working hard - imagine having to lift the weight of your body plus that of the racing wheelchair up the 100 foot climb between mile 2 and 3 using only your arms without stopping to rest.

At mile 3 the course heads downhill on Spout Run to the GW Parkway. The course is only two lanes wide there and as it is early in the race it is crowded.  The wheelchair racer has a chance to pick up speed and enjoy the fruits of his labor from the long uphill getting there and maybe catch a bit of a rest while putting gravity to work.  His guide runner is yelling "Wheel chair racer, move left," but people are slow to get out of his way, some because they are wearing headphones and are oblivious to their surroundings.  I scream at the top of my lungs, "Move left! NOW!" and it helps a bit, but further down the hill there are still people who couldn't give a damn about being able to hear their fellow man.

Game On!
We cross Key Bridge into Georgetown and head out Canal Road, familiar territory and one I often drive on.  At mile 6 I look at my watch and then at the 4:30 pace band I picked up at the Marathon Expo on Friday.  Up until this point I had no plan for the marathon other than to enjoy the day.  I'm wearing the pace band mainly so that I can gauge my progress and not necessarily as a goal.  Last year I ran MCM in a PR of 4:29 but I have not set consciously set out to beat that today. But I see that I'm about two minutes ahead of the 4:30 pace and decide that since this is the Marine Corps Marathon, what better way to honor them than to run as hard as I can as long as I can, and when I get tired, to be mentally tough and overcome it.

Looking good before mile 19
(Courtesy of Ken Trombatore)
 This strategy, developed on the spot without any reflection is precisely the opposite of what I did at last year's MCM in running a PR.  In 2011 my pacing was even throughout the day, running  a nearly even negative splits of  2:15 - 2:14 and having enough left at the end to run mile 26 as my second fastest mile split of the day.

But today, in other words, I'm committing myself to the notorious - and usually doomed - fly-and-die strategy.  I try to convince myself that today it isn't a fly-and-die approach; it's the Marine-tough approach. "Today's pain is tomorrow's strength," I assure myself, even though I need the strength today, not tomorrow.

I run up Reservoir Road at mile 7, and clip through the slightly downhill mile 8 along MacArthur Blvd in 9:36.  Passing the Georgetown Pep Band in front of the University I yell "Hoya!" and get a "Saxa!" in return.

Along M Street I fall in alongside a woman running with a large knee brace. She's from Charleston, SC and trains cadets at the Citadel to run marathons.  This year she was challenged to run MCM.  It's her first marathon and she admits that her knee is hurting.  She also says that she has to have it operated on, but that she had to accept the challenge and that she would not be deterred by the knee. "That's the kind of toughness that this marathon brings out," I think, fitting her into my narrative of the day.

Through the cheering crowds along M Street, past the Kennedy Center and down towards Hains Point I continue the strategy of running miles at a mid 9-minute pace, appreciably ahead of the 10:18 pace of a 4:30 marathon.

A mile 12 there is a row of evenly spaced blue signs alongside the course.  Each sign has a photograph of a service member with brief biographical information.  The last line is always the same "KIA" with a place and a date.  When the signs end there is a row of 15-20 persons holding American flags.
Around the end of the point and the course turns northward.  The wind kicks up from the east. For a few moments rain seems likely to follow, but none falls.

Through the mid-teen miles my pace drops a bit into the upper 9-minute per mile range but I still feel good.  These are the dull miles of the marathon, after the exhilaration and freshness of the first quarter have worn off and before mile 20 when the end becomes achievable.  Run them, book them, and forget them.

Around mile 18, near the National Gallery of Art I move to the right-hand side of the course and begin looking for daughter Hilary who has said she would meet me there with treats. She spots me first. I take some Snickers from the offerings and she's off to the south side of the Mall to see me there as I head toward the Capitol to circle around the Reflecting Pool and the Grant Monument at the foot of Capitol Hill.

Before I get there I spot one of the legendary characters of the MCM, 70-year old Ray De Frees, better known as the Flag Man.  Ray is running his 20th MCM and he as carried the United States flag in each of them since 2001.  He encourages others to join him in sharing the carrying of the colors, and I ask him if I may.  He hands it to me and we run for some yards, before he says, "I can't run too far with you."  I thank him and return it to him.  This year he is featured in the MCM Program.

I realize that I may be getting a bit tired and I make a conscious effort to improve my form by picking up my knees.  It seems to work.  Just passed mile 19 I spot Hilary and she gives me words of encouragement as well as an offer of more Snickers, which I politely decline.

Mile 20 comes on the approach to the 14th Street Bridge as the course heads back to Virginia.  A glance at the watch and then the wrist band and I'm now about 10 minutes ahead of a 4:30 pace.  Thoughts of a 4:20 finish enter my mind.

Mile 20 is where a marathon starts.  The first 20 miles are nothing more than the preliminaries to get to Mile 20.  They are to strip the runner down to his core, to get rid of any stored glycogen, to introduce one to the place where body and will struggle for the upper hand.  There are 6.2 miles left, 10 kilometers. Not much by usual standards.  But it is where friend Jennifer S. described as a place where even thoughts of her only child could not make her happy or ease the pain.  Some runners talk about "hitting the wall" during this 10K.  That suggests a brief, sudden impact.  It isn't that at all.  It is more akin to falling into a well.  It isn't brief.  It doesn't let up.  It gets worse every step of the way.  And once there there is no way out other than to get to the finish.  The strong use that knowledge to press hard to get it over with more quickly.  The weak are left on the course longer to suffer more.  It comes down to how much pain can one endure now so one does not have to suffer any longer than necessary.  And sometimes the body doesn't care what the mind thinks.

MCM Mascot at finish
(Courtesy of Ken Trombatore)
Crossing the bridge brings mile 21 just a the Virginia shore.  It was a good crossing on a part of the course largely devoid of spectators and scenery - just a four-lane concrete roadway stretching ahead.  I'm back back to a mid-9 minute mile. The first mile of the last 6.2 finished and still on course for a shot at breaking 4:20.  "Stay strong.  Be tough," I remind myself.

It takes almost another mile of running on I-395 to pass the water stop entering Crystal City.  The four lanes of the highway yield to the one lane of the exit ramp and it becomes crowded.  Perhaps that contributes to taking more than 10 minutes to run mile 22.  Or perhaps it is the tightening feeling developing in my calves.

But the Hash House Harriers have their traditional aid station ahead and I grab a cup of beer and some pretzels.  To drink the beer I walk for the first time all day.  But the pretzels are dry in my mouth and after a few bites I spit them out and return to running.  The tightening calves slow the pace, but no worse than the previous mile.  At mile 23 I am still on pace for a chance to finish under 4:20.

Down through the streets of Crystal City I go.  There are big crowds here and they yell encouragement, clap, wave signs and make noise trying, it seems, to transfer their energy to the runners for the final 5K.

Rounding the corner to head back toward the Pentagon the 4:15 pacer carrying her balloons on a stick and accompanied by a pack of runners passes me.  It's a bit deceiving as they started behind me, so they are probably five or more minutes ahead of me based on their chip time.

I spot a woman wearing a MCRRC First Time Marathoner shirt and ask her how she is doing.  She's fine she replies and wonders about her pace.  I don't know when she crossed the starting line but assure her that she is well on pace to finish in 4:30.

Hell Begins Here
The truth for me is that things are not going well.  Both my calves are not only tightening up but feeling like they are on the verge of cramping.  I'm trying to stay tough and not let my body win.  While I've stocked and taken gels regularly I regret that I've forgotten to bring salt tablets.

I pass up the donut holes offered at the next aid station but drink down a couple of cups of water.  It's becoming harder and harder to keep up the pace and my calves refuse to stretch out my stride.  Passing under I-395 approaching the Pentagon I take a banana section offered at an unofficial aid station figuring the potassium may help.

I pass the marker for mile 24.  My pace has appreciably slowed - it is the slowest mile of the day.  So far. Then my right hamstring sends messages that it is on the verge of cramping.  I have visions of both calves and the hamstring all seizing up at once and dropping me to the ground.  I try to run but its any effort beyond a shuffle sends the muscles to the very edge of deep spasms.

The next two miles are sheer unrelieved agony. Any attempt to run up an incline, such as the highway ramp just beyond mile 25 threatens to lock up my calves.  Mile 25 is now the slowest mile of the day, and the first to take more than 11 minutes to complete.

As I walk, shuffle, try to run - do anything to keep moving forward that last mile one thought takes precedence over all others.  Get to the finish, and then I can fall to the ground.  Cross the finish line and I won't have to run another step.  Get to the end.  Be done. The quicker the better.

Mock turtleneck shirt, medal, bib and
USAA challenge medal
There are crowds the last half mile or so.  The path the last quarter mile or so is packed with spectators.  It is lined with them but I ignore them.  I don't look at them.  I don't acknowledge them.  I'm not sure I even hear them. They might as well not be there.  All I see is the road ahead.  Then the arch over the finish line.  Then the finish line itself.  Then I'm over it.

I don't collapse.  But I do go over to the railing on the side of the finish chute and lean on it.  I stay there for awhile.  One of the Marines lining the chute asks if I'm alright.  "I'm OK," I reply, "I'm fine."

I finish in 4:23:24, a personal record by more than six minutes.  I finish 82 of 395 in my age group, just out of the top 20 percent and 5729 of 13525 males.

A couple of days after the race I looked at pictures of me crossing the finish line.  My eyes are half closed.  My mouth is an open circle.  My shoulders hunch forward.  Both knees are bent.  It is not a picture that imparts the viewer with the joy of running.  But it is an honest picture, for at that moment, with left foot on the finish line and right foot above it I did what, 20 miles earlier I had determined to do. I ran as long as I could as hard as I could.  Then, when the day turned hard and the last few miles turned awful, both physically and in terms of performance, I persevered.   The reward was a horrible finish line photo in return for a PR.  And that is an exchange that most runners would make.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Monster Half Marathon - September 2, 2012

For the third consecutive year I'm standing in the parking lot of "Gatherings" on the first Sunday of September, waiting to start running up Virgil Mountain at the Finger Lakes Running Club's low-key trail run, the Monster Marathon and Half Marathon. Unlike the marathon start in 2010 and the half marathon start last year, I'm not alone at the starting line.  Two other runners are with me for the age-graded start.  At our age we get to start at 8:37, a 23 minute head start on the official starting time of 9:00 a.m.

A shirtless Jon H. immediately speeds away.  He goes on to finish an age-graded 9th overall.  The second runner, Dick D. and I start off together and companionably chat away.  He is going to run - walk actually - a multi-day stage event in Peru using trekking poles with a bunch of experienced trekkers.  Since much of the experience will be spent in the mountains visiting Machu Picchu and other Inca ruins he's using Monster for training as it involves 2780 feet of climb and descent over the out-and-back course.

The steam engine ruin by the trail
After a brief downhill on a gravel road, the course heads up Virgil Mountain.  I can walk a bit faster than Dick and I push on.  It's not long before younger runners are passing me. On the other hand, I pass the rusting remains of a steam engine next to the path.  Perhaps it was used there when the mountain was logged.  It hasn't moved in years so passing it is not too difficult.

After the mountain levels out Dick catches up to me and we trot on together and chat some more.  He's faster than me downhill and goes on ahead as we descend the other side of Virgil Mountain.

The Forest Monster
The website for the race tells how the race got its name: "A 500 year old Iroquois Indian Legend tells how a 'Forest Monster' chased the Indian brave 'Jost Du-It' out and back twice along the present course. Jost Du-it’s time for the 26.2 miles was 3:26:59, then he collapsed. He quickly vanished, presumably eaten by the 'Forest Monster'. . . .Glance behind each tree!"

Sure enough, as we start up the final climb to the turn-around, the forest monster comes into view. He is wearing a race bib and running shoes and is waving his claws at runners as they pass. But he stays safely toward the side and we run past.

At the turn-around I check my watch.  I'm halfway done in 1:26.  If I can keep it up I can finish under three hours. The good news is that it is net downhill on the way back.  The bad news is that it is the second half of the half.  Last year I went through the same calculations, having reached the halfway point in just under 1:31.  But last year I faded and finished in 3:08.  There's an aid station at the halfway point so the calculations are easy - run 45 minutes to the aid station and 45 minutes from there to the finish.  Easy to compute - but will it be easy to execute? It was not last year.

Monster attack!
Headed down the trail I pass the Forest Monster and stop to take a picture.  A woman is running down behind me and I yell to her to beware of the monster.  But perhaps that just enraged the beast as he launched an attack on her.  After a brief struggle she escaped from him and shortly thereafter passed me. (Editor's note: The monster attacked was staged and occurred under the instigation and direction of your reporter.  No monsters were hurt in the making of this photograph. Nor were any runners.)

Safely past the monster
and headed uphill
After awhile I catch up to Jodi H. the runner "attacked" by the monster.  We chat about why we are out running this and where we are from.  I say that I'm from Bethesda but staying at our vacation house in Watkins Glen and that it would be crazy to come here just to run this race.  She's from Massachusetts and agrees, as she is visiting a friend in Ithaca, about 20 miles to the west.

After a bit I leave Jodi and catch up with Dick on the long uphill to the aid station.  I tell him of my three hour goal and then tell him that I have had a Voice speak to me and the Voice said that Dick would lead me to finish in under three hours.  Then I add, "And the Voice said that this was not a matter for Dick to choose but that it was a direction to him and that it was an obligation that had been placed on him."

I don't know if Dick thought I was kidding or that I was just crazy.  But he responded, "I'll get you there under three hours."

We continue on and reach the aid station in 44:38 since the turnaround, right on target.  With about 2:11 elapsed I have 49 minutes to run the last quarter of the course.

We pass the meteorological equipment on the top of Virgil Mountain and head down.  Dick is taking his mission seriously and almost trips as we come out on the short stretch of power line road atop the mountain.  I stop to try to take some pictures as he goes on.  Not only do I fail but he's pulled away from me on the downhill and I soon lose sight of him.

So now it's on me alone to reach my goal.  I go down the mountain as fast as I can.  Toward the bottom I start to see marathoners who are on their second lap of the course.  I start to ask them how far it is since they left the start-finish and get ambiguous and contradictory replies both in terms of time and distance. I try to figure out the time remaining but can't.  Just a matter of pushing now.

Off the trail and on the gravel road toward Gatherings and the finish.  But it is uphill in this direction and the sun is shining down after the shade of the woods.  It's not a pleasant run like the trail.  Push until I can't go anymore, then walk for 30 seconds, then run again.  I leapfrog with another runner who passes me while I walk.  Finally cross the road and the finish is in sight.  Sandy is standing by the side and I toss my water bottle in her direction as I cross the finish line in 2:56:39, or an age adjusted 2:33:39, good for an age-adjusted 48th place of the 77 finishers.  I see Dick and thank him for accepting what was thrust upon him by the Voice. He acknowledges that he did accept the mission that was placed on him and he succeeded, finishing in 2:53:05,  or an AG 2:20:05, one place ahead of me.

My splits are 46:25 and 40:05 for 1:26:30 outbound and 44:38 and 44:33 for 1:29:09 inbound for a 2:56:39.  Just about perfect for a race on rocky, rooty single track up and down a mountain.  The fastest unadjusted time was 1:46:03, for an ultrasignup.com runner rank 60.0%, just slightly above my overall rank of 56.3%

Mission accomplished thanks to the Voice and Dick, I go off and enjoy the buffet lunch included in the race fee.
Swag? For $30 race day registration you want swag?




Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Black Hills 100K - June 23, 2012

I Will Not be a Casualty
South Dakota's Roadside
Death Memorials
I am frequently fond of relating a story from the night before D-Day.  The paratroopers are lined up on the tarmac in preparation to boarding the gliders that will take them to France.  An officer comes out to address the men.  At the end of his remarks he soberly tells the men that it will be a tough day ahead and that half of them likely will be casualties.  Each man looks at the soldier standing next to him and silently thinks, "Poor bastard."  Intellectually we know that some of us won't make it.  Emotionally, we know it won't be us.

The night before the Black Hills (SD) 100K, Jennifer W. and I visit Saloon #10 in Deadwood.  It is named after the saloon where Wild Bill Hitchcock was killed. A lit alcove over the door holds the chair he reputedly sat in when shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall.  The 15-minute drive back to the Holiday Inn in Sturgis is illuminated by wild lightning, rolling thunder and intermittent showers.


We pass several of South Dakota's official markers for roadside deaths. I suppose those people knew, when they left Deadwood for Sturgis or wherever they would bound that they would not be casualties the day or night they died either.


"Today is a Good Day to Die"
A Lakota song for the runners
This quote is usually attributed to the great Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, who was born in the area just north of the Black Hills perhaps near Belle Fourche, 25 miles to the northwest.  The Paha Sapa are sacred to the Lakota, and a tribal member offers a prayer and a song for the runners lined up for the start of the three races: 50 miles, 100 K and 100 miles.  We will all go out on the same course but turn around at different places.

I feel a sense of irony receiving a Lakota blessing before running into the Black Hills.  The are an area that the United States had affirmed belonged to the Lakota in an 1868 treaty and had agreed to keep whites from entering.  In 1874, an expedition under Lt. Colonel George Armstorng Custer entered the Black Hills and discovered gold. The resulting influx of gold seekers with the support of the United States Goverment took the Black Hills from the Lakota.  Yet here was a member of the tribe offering a blessing for those of us who would be entering what was once his people's land.


Starting Out
At the start
We start out at 8:03 a.m. along a paved bike path that takes us out of Sturgis and onto the trail.  It's already warm.  We climb a hill and descend the other side. We admire views of Bear Butte to the north as we head south.  At the first aid station at Alkalai Creek (mile 5.7) I check my pace card and excitedly tell Jennifer that we are "off the chart,"  meaning that we are ahead of the fastest column I put on the card.  "Let's not think of that," she warns.

There's Crazy and then there's CRAZY
For people who are not trail runners, the idea of running for hours and tens of miles through the woods and fields is crazy.  But for those of us who do it, it seems perfectly normal.  Even more than normal; it's something that we often think that those who think it is extreme could do too.  After all, for many of us, running a trail race usually means lots of walking, eating at aid stations and even changing shirts and shoes and sitting down at those aid stations.

But even for the normal trail runners, there are some people out there who really are crazy.  Excessive in their behavior. Extremely obsessive. And crazy.  Western races seem to have higher percentages that in the East, and Black Hills has the most I've ever seen.

The woman is wearing a Marathon Maniacs shirt and wearing a 100K bib.  I mention my Marathon Maniac friend Barry S. who recently reached the five-star Maniac level by running three marathons in three states in eight days.  She responds that she, too, is a five-star Maniac, having achieved it by running three marathons in three days.  She's planning on getting her sixth star by doing the Quadzilla - four marathons in four days.

I ask her whether she has run any other 100K races.  "No," she replies, "this is my first."  Pause.  "But I've run three 100 milers."

Another woman is discussing her efforts at the Western States 100, where she was pulled from the race at mile 75 because she had lost too much weight up to that point, principally due to dehydration.  "I knew I was going to have trouble making weight," she said, "so I tried putting rocks in my pockets and wet sponges in my bra.  But they know all the tricks and made me take them out."

She told another story of a time she was in Brazil pacing another runner in a 135 mile race.  "He was falling asleep while we were running and I was doing everything I could to keep him awake.  I was trying to keep him talking.  Finally I spotted a town in the distance," she related.  "Look! If we can make it to the town there will be an aid station there.  But when we got there the town was deserted except for wild dogs.  We had to go on."

The day before the race I spotted a man wearing a 2012 Bighorn Trail Run shirt from the previous week.  His name is Scott B., and he says that he did the 100 miler at Bighorn and is doing the 100 miler at Black Hills.  "This will be my 13th 100 miler of the year," he says.  "I'm trying to break Monica Scholz's record of thirty 100 milers in a year." (He finishes Black Hills in 30:55.)

Follow the Centennial Trail


Follow the bison skull and "89"
The course for the Black Hills 100 races is simple: basically follow the Centennial Trail until you come to the appropriate turn-around for your distance, turn around and retrace your footsteps.

We leave Alkali Creek, cross under I-90 on the dry creek bed and head up into the Black Hills.  We ascend 800 feet to an altitude of 4400 over about 4.2 miles, then descend a couple of hundred feet over about 1.4 miles, mostly through ponderosa pine forest.

The Bulldog Aid station (mile 10.4) is manned by volunteers from Ellsworth AFB, one of whom is dressed as a fairy princess.  "I'm the Spirit of the Forest," she proclaims.  "What is your wish?"

Leaving Bulldog leads to another series of climbs totally about 1000 feet of altitude, bringing us over 5100 feet. before we head down again.  This section of the course has much less shade than the previous section and not only are the temperatures increasing but the sun is bright and hot.  On the other hand, the open spaces provide opportunities for picture taking, and both Jennifer and I take advantage of that.

Jennifer snapping pics on the trail
While I'm wearing my Nathan backpack, Jennifer is carrying only a single hand-held water bottle.  I gradually hear less and less sloshing from her bottle and ask her if she has enough fluid to last to the next aid station.  At first she says she does, but following subsequent questioning says that she could use some and I supply it from my pack.  It's a hotter day than we had anticipated and we both arrive at the Elk Creek Aid station (mile 17) with no fluids left.

The dry Elk Creek
I have a drop bag at Elk Creek and change my shirt which is soaked with perspiration.  From the aid station we drop down into the Elk Creek drainage and cross the creek several times.  Actually we cross the rocky creek bed, as there is no water in sight.

Soon we are back to the familiar routine of long climbs again cresting 5000 feet.  This time we stay at that altitude as we come to the Crooked Tree aid station (mile 22.5). The heat is starting to take toll.  I put ice under my cap and on the advice of another female runner, Jennifer puts ice in the cleavage of her sports bra.

I'm surprised that the ice has little effect on my skull.  It doesn't seem cold even when I move it around to different places.  And it seems to take its time melting.

Although the turn-around for the 50 mile runners is only 2.5 miles beyond the Crooked Tree aid station, and we have been seeing 50-mile runners on the way back, it seems to take forever to get to the simple post stuck in the ground with a sign marking the turn-around.

More scenery on the Centennial Trail
This post is also an indicator of the ethos of the trail runner.  There is no official standing there to assure that runners have gone all the way to it before turning around.  Not shorting the course is left to the honor of each runner.

The views along this section of the course are excellent and we stop and take some.

We come across a runner whose hand is bleeding pretty badly.  He had just fallen and cut it on a rock.  He asks if we have any tissues or antibiotic wipes but we have nothing to offer. He thanks us, wipes off the blood as best he can and goes on.

Ken on the crest with view to the plains and the horizon
It is 7 miles from Crooked Tree to the next aid station at Dalton Lake. It is mostly downhill, dropping from above 5000 feet to about 4400 feet.  That should make it relatively easy, but the heat, sun, altitude and constant climbing and descending are taking a toll on me.  Even a long, gradual descent on a smooth dirt trail feels hard.  My head starts to feel odd, not in any particular way but I don't feel quite right. (Later, back in Washington, Jennifer will tell someone that I was slurring my speech and listing in my posture - things that I was not aware of at the time. She emails others, "I'd never seen him so out of sorts and it was a bit scary.")

When we arrive at Dalton Lake aid station (mile 29), Jennifer's friend from college Melisa, and Melisa's Aunt Debbie, niece Courtney and nephew Chris greet us at the aid station. Melissa, Debbie and Courtney had driven with Jennifer the nearly 400 miles from Sioux Falls to Sturgis simply to hang out and see what this trail running was all about.

I flop down in a chair while Jennifer gets her drop bag and rummages around in it.  A volunteer hands me a wet towel that I place over my head.  I try to regroup. It's tough.  I decide that I'll try to get to the turnaround less than two miles ahead.  Then back to Dalton Lake and I can decide if I can go on.

Casualties are Inevitable
Jennifer and I head out.  More accurately we head up, as it is a steep unrelenting climb headed about 5200 feet.  After ten minutes of so I sit down on a log and tell Jennifer that I'm finished.  I'm going back to the aid station and drop.

There is irony here as I was the one who talked Jennifer into entering a race at a distance she had never attempted.  She had told me that she would not abandon me.  Now it was me calling it quits.  I'd gone about 30 miles in something over eight hours. I'm not in pain, but I have nothing left.  She decides to go on while I trudge back

The volunteers are understanding.  They ask if I'd like to rest and then try to restart.  I decline their offer.  I'm not the only one who has dropped at the aid station.  Other runners come in and announce they are dropping.  By the end of the day, about 40 percent of the 100K entrants won't reach the finish line.  Of the about 100 persons who signed up for the 100 mile race, only 38 will finish.

Success Comes to the Tough
Jennifer gets to the turn-around are returns to the Dalton Lake aid station.  Melissa and family return from a walk around the lake.  Jennifer says that she cant' quit because she has told too many people that she was entering the race.  I tell her to use the lights and batteries in my drop bag at Elk Creek, as she will be running in the dark and has not put any light in her drop bag.  Melissa and I tell her we will support her as best we can.  She heads off and I get in the car with Melissa for the drive back to Sturgis.

Fortunately, cell phone reception in the Black Hills is excellent.  At 7:46 p.m. she texts, "At Crooked Tree. 22 miles to go. Brutal."  At 10:02, she texts, "Just left [Elk Creek aid station] [mile 45]." A minute later she adds, "please bring choc milk to [Alkali Creek aid station]." She repeats that a minute later, then adds, "Its a bitch."  

At 10:40 p.m., she sends a troubling message, "Hurt foot - walking - phone almost dead." I respond, "If you drop borrow phone and call me.  I'll pick you up if accessible aid station."  A half hour passes.  Then a defiant response, "Not dropping!" followed by "more batteries please."

The next message is from the Bulldog aid station, 52 miles down and with only 10 miles to go.

Melissa and I head to the Alkali Creek aid station.  The moon is just past new so there is not much light.  Finally in the distance we see a light bobbing toward the aid station.  It is Todd G. and he says that he thinks our friend is somewhere behind him, but he is vague as to particulars.  After a little while we see another light, following a slightly different course through the field, coming toward us.  Iris P. says that she saw Jennifer in the company of another runner and not too far behind.  Iris heads out for the last 5.7 miles to the finish and soon we see two lights, on yet a another slightly different course headed to the aid station.  Jennifer emerges from the darkness in the company of Blair A.

Jennifer later gives Blair credit for getting her to the finish when he found her stopped on the trail.  "I was a bawling, scared mess and planning to drop at [Alkali Creek] when another experienced ultra runner offered to finish the last 5 miles with me," she wrote later. She also reports that as it got dark she tripped and fell into a patch of poison ivy.

At the aid station Jennifer flops into a chair, dumps out the sports drink in her bottle and refills it with chocolate milk.  I change the batteries in her flashlight.  She removes her left shoe to reveal duct tape wrapped around it.  "Give me a paper towel," she commands.  She folds the towel into quarters, puts it on the bottom of her foot and wraps it in place with surgical tape I had brought along.  Melissa swaps her mobile phone with Jennifer's dead one.

Off the two runners go.  Melissa and I head for the finish line to meet them.

Jennifer and Blair cross the finish line
About 1:30 a.m. my phone rings.  Jennifer asks, "Do you remember crossing a gravel road this morning?"  I tell her I don't but that I could be mistaken.  "We just crossed one," she says "and I don't remember that on the way out."  Then she decides that they have taken a wrong turn and they backtrack to pick up the trail.

Just after 2:00 a.m. we see a pair of headlamps emerge from the darkness at the edge of the track.  Jennifer and Blair trot into the light.  They finish in 20 hours and 13 minutes.

An undeserved but greatly appreciated
decorated hotel door
When I get back to the hotel I find my door decorated by Courtney. There is a "Tougher than anyone I know" sign on it.  It is misplaced. It belongs not on my door, but on Jennifer's.

In more than 25 ultras, this is only the second one in which I DNF'd.  The first was my first due to an ITB injury that I entered the race with.  I went back and finished that race three times.  I've finished after suffering through nausea, vomiting, and knee pain.  I've run through mud, ice, snow and streams.  But  Black Hills was too tough for me that day.

There are two things missing from the swag below.  First the finishers' medal.  And second, the age group trophy I would have received had I finished.  The DNF and the two medals give me three reasons to go back.

Black Hills swag: shirt, backpack
and purchased CD and beer glass






Tuesday, July 10, 2012

TNF Endurance Mid-Atlantic 50K - June 2, 2012

A Muddy Course on a Sunny Day
High water on the Potomac
Mud. Heavy rains Friday night produced miles of deep mud and standing water on The North Face Washington DC Endurance Challenge course on Saturday.  Stretches of single track trail could be renamed single lane canals, as they are filled not only with inches-deep mud but standing water on top of the slick mud.  Numerous runners wind up with mud on their legs, shorts, shirts, arms or hands from falling, slipping or trying to save themselves from falling into the mud.

 Although the first eight miles of the course, run mostly on the Potomac Heritage Trail, is swampy, the remainder of the course is reasonably dry, partly due to it being away from the river.  Since the course is out and back however, the last eight miles repeat the swampy portion.  But the return is marginally better, as sunshine helps reduce, but not eliminate, the mud during the afternoon return.

Booty Call I
The woman is on the knife edge between safety and a slide back into the muddy creek. She is partially up the steep, slippery far slope of the narrow stream.  The male runner behind her begins to reach out to help push her up the slope, but as his hand approaches her, he hesitiates.  A runner on the bank above her reaches out a hand.  She grasps it and is pulled to safety.

A couple of minutes later I tell her what happened behind her.

"I wouldn't have objected," she replies.  "Better than sliding back down into the mud."

And a few steps later she slips and falls into the mud on the trail.

Jennifer
"Snap the pic, already."
Jennifer W. is running the 50 mile race as part of our training for the Black Hills 100K later in June.  The 50 milers started two hours prior to the 50K runners.  They run the same out and back portion of the course (plus a small spur), but they run three loops of the 6.9 mile portion of the course in Great Falls Park, while the 50K runners do only one.

I'm on the lookout for Jennifer as I run the loop. It twists and doubles back on itself, with two out-and-back spurs.  Just after the first one, I spot Jennifer coming the opposite direction.  We exchange greetings and I insist on taking a picture. As I fiddle with the cell phone. Jennifer grows impatient. "Would you hurry up," she urges, "I don't have all day."  I snap and we head off in opposite directions.

But within five minutes or so she has caught up with me, even though I'm going a shorter distance and she's already run two hours  and nine miles more than me, to say nothing of having had to rise at 3 a.m. to get to the 5 a.m. start.

Fogged lens overlooking Mather Gorge
We run together for the remainder of the loop.  I have trouble keeping up with her.  As I leave her at the Great Falls aid station to head back to the start-finish, she is sitting on the ground putting duct tape on her blistering toes before heading back into the loop for her third pass.  The duct tape will aid the blistering, but the duct  tape will trap moisture and cost her three toenails.

Booty Call II
"Don't you like my booty?," the woman asks me. So many wrong ways to answer that question.

"Your booty is fine," I stammer.

"I wondered why you didn't touch it," she continued.

She and I are about four miles from the finish, headed up a moderately steep single-track slope.

She had been in front of me as we headed up the slope.  She had started to slide back and I put my hand on the fuel belt on her waist to steady her.  Now I was being questioned for not putting my hand on her rump.

"I used your belt to help you," I honestly reply.  And because I don't know what else to say.

The Roundup
Shirt, arm warmers and bib from TNF50K
I finish the 50K in 7:10:01, a pace of 14:18 per mile.  Jennifer finishes the 50 miles in 11:35:44, or a 13:55 pace. Put bluntly, she ran a faster pace over 50 miles than I did for only 50K, or 31.1 miles.  Furthermore, the Chinese food that we had the night before with a couple of other runners did not sit well with her digestive system on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Capon Valley 50K - May 19, 2012

On the way to Lynn's barn - the first and last aid station
Lessons
Often running is just running.  Left foot, right foot, repeat until done.

But sometimes there are things to be learned.  Usually about running. But at Capon Vally this year not everything learned related to running. One lesson changed my outlook on the future and how to confront, view and handle the changes that come with getting older.


Colors Matter
Death in a row by the side of the trail
This was my fifth Capon Valley 50K, and since the course is unchanged, I know the course quite well.  Or so I thought.  Twice I led folks off-course, and a a third time I followed others who had gone astray.  In none of the cases did we go more than 30 or 40 yards wrong and it was a simple matter to realize that we did not see any ribbons marking the trail.

But this year the ribbons were striped white and light orange, and in the dappled sunlight of a forest, they were harder to see than the bright pink ribbons of years past.

Motivation is Where You Find It
The Sparkle Train, aka Team America
Headed down the long descent - about 800 feet in about 3.5 - 4.0 miles - from the Capon Springs Grade Aid Station (mile 18.7) I pass a pair of women standing by the trail.  "We're waiting for our friend," they inform me as I go by.

Shortly thereafter, the three companions pass me.  They are wearing matching glittery skirts over their running pants, one silver, one red and one blue.

"Too bad they didn't have white," I comment, "You could have been Team America."  "Silver was the closest they had," Silver replied.  "It's Blue's birthday," she adds, so we need to get done for beer and cake."

I decide to try to stick with them, or at least keep them in sight.  They pull away from me on the downhills, but I can walk uphill faster than they can, and we leapfrog a bit.  We do this for about seven miles, until we are cross under the powerlines less than a mile from the Golemon Barn, AS #6 at mile 27.5.  From then on the course is mostly downhill and they pull away and finish about four and a half minutes ahead of me.  But the effort to keep up with them upped my pace and helped me to a Capon Valley PR.

Glue Matters
Missing a heel
A few weeks before the race the tread of the right heel of my Nike trail shoes had started to separate from the shoe.  I had a tube of Shoe Goo that I had used successfully on other, non-running athletic shoes - baseball cleats - in the past, so I used it on the Nikes.

About 23 miles into the race I felt something under my right foot.  At first it feels like I keep stepping on a soft stone.  A stop to look reveals that the repaired heel is peeling off.  Coming into the Capon Springs Road Aid Station (mile 24.4) I ask if anyone has a knife, as I plan to cut off the flopping part.  No one does, but a volunteer offers duct tape.  Taking the shoe off I'm confused as I don't see anything wrong with the shoe.  There's nothing detached.  Then the mental fog lifts and I realize that the heel has peeled off entirely.  It's only about a quarter or three-eighths inch thick so it does not present any problems the rest of the way.

Good is Relative, or Why the Glass is Always Full
Somewhere in the middle of the course I run with a man who mentions that he is 65 years old.  "I hope that when I reach your age, I'll be in good enough shape to still be running," I say.

"You'll be in good shape," he says, "and you have lots of years ahead of you."

"I don't mind, the more years, just as long as they are good ones," I reply.

"Good means different things at different times. There may come a day when you will find it an accomplishment to be able to get from your chair and use a walker.  The day may come when laying in bed and being able to use an iPad will be the most you can do.  But if it is what you can do, then it will feel good to do it, if that is the best you can do," he explains.

It is an insight that had, until that moment, escaped me. But as he says it, I recall my mother's rehabilitation from her stroke, going from not being able to stand to being able to walk, even if she sometimes needed a walker. The lesson of the older runner to accept being able to finish rather than running faster applies to all aspects of living.  The scope of our reach may shrink, but there will always be something to reach for.  Accept that, reach for what you can, and you will age - no, you will live - happily and with purpose.

The Race Facts
I finish my fifth Capon Valley 50K in 6:40:56, a PR by 27 minutes.  I finish 124/196 overall, 86/122 males, and 7/15 in the male 60-69 age group.

Capon Valley swag - shirt and number
(not shown, devoured chicken dinner and homemade desserts)





Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bull Run Run 50 Mile - April 14, 2012

Twitter enables one to say what one is doing in 160 characters or less and do it from one's mobile device. And with some additional applications, such as Twitpic, one can send pictures with descriptions to one's followers. If you are a slow runner like me, one can use one's mobile to keep one's Twitter followers appraised of what one is doing during a race in real time.

Of course, the downside to Twitter is that one is limited to 160 characters per message.  That's often good enough for most messages, but for race reports, it is extremely limiting.  Since I tweeted during Bull Run this year, I've decided to use this blog entry to expand my tweets from Bull Run Run.   This is the story behind the tweets, which are bolded below.

6:30 a.m - "37 degrees as Bull Run 50 begins."
It's a bit cool at the start, but the forecast calls for the temperature to climb over 70 by the afternoon.  I decide to start with two long sleeve shirts, a buff pulled up like a Balaclava, but with shorts.  Not ten minutes into the run I shed one of the shirts and tie it around my waist.  I take the gloves off.

Photo courtesy of Bobby Gill
Unlike 2011, the week has been dry and the creeks are low and crossings involve no water.  There are no muddy spots on the course.  The weather feels fine and I get through the Centreville Road Aid Station (mile 5.5) in 1:30, 4-5 minutes faster than my 2010 and 2011 BRRs, although I don't know that at the time.

8:26 a.m. - "Thru turnaround at 7.7."
I cruise through the turnaround 2.2 miles beyond the aid station.  For some reason it feels a bit cool and I put my back on gloves on.

There is an large inflatable gorilla at the turnaround and I stop to playfully punch it in the nose. "Rumble in the jungle," I joke to the turn around volunteers.

8:49 a.m. - "Just a few bluebells this year" (with pic)
Just beyond the turnaround I stop to photograph a field of bluebells.  The unseasonably warm winter and spring has got them to flower a week or two early and there are many fewer in bloom this year than in years past.

Just a few bluebells this year.
After taking the photo I cruise along feeling pretty good except for some chafing on the left side of my chest.  I have some balm with me and rub it on, and get a band aid when I return to the Hemlock Aid Station at mile 11.6.  It helps.

At one point I slow down to offer pro bono legal advice.  Some runners coming along are discussing the receipt of a summons for reckless driving in Virginia.  "Consult a lawyer," I advise, "that's a criminal offense."  Unfortunately, the person had already sent in the citation (on the advice of the charging police officer!) in hopes that the Commonwealth attorney would likely reduce the charges to a lesser traffic violation.

10:04 a.m. - "Athru Hemlock 16.6. Change shirt."
Back to the start/finish area at the Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, I go to my drop bag, change the long sleeve shirt for a short sleeved one and ditch the gloves, buff and the two long sleeved shirts.  I realize that I had forgotten to put my pace card in my pocket, and I unsuccessfully rummage around for it.  I replace a goo pack or two.  I tape my heel which is feeling a bit rubbed and I want to ward off a blister.  I don't realize it, partly because I don't have my pace card,  but I'm now 13 minutes ahead of my PR for the course.

The weather is warming up and I'm trying to manage any risk of dehydration by taking Succeed! tablets every 90 minutes or so.  The salt and potassium are designed to help one retain fluids and avoid cramps.

11:03 a.m. - "Thru Marina,AS mile 22ish?"
I continue to make fine progress and chat with runners as I go along.  I've got a few jokes that I recall and I try them out on various folks as we go along.  Most of them are groaners and a couple of them are from the NPR Science Friday Annual joke show, which occasionally require explanations, thereby not making them funny.

11:05 a.m. - "On the trail as gunfire sounds from the range" (with pic)
BRR course past the Marina AS
I decide that my vast audience of 19 followers on Twitter deserve a picture of the trail, so I stop and take one.  I cannot bring them (but might have had I made a video clip) the sound of sustained gunfire at a shooting range on the other side of Bull Run.

I fall into running with Tom F.  It is his first Bull Run and second 50-miler.  We chat as we go along and after a while I ask him to take a picture of me.  He agrees, we make it an action, i.e., running picture, and I promptly tweet it.

11:30 a.m. "Ken runs at Bull Run" (with pic)
Running at Bull Run Run
In about a half hour we arrive at the Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station.  This aid station is always a hit for the runners as every year the volunteers select a theme for the station and dress accordingly.  This year they have selected a Gone with the Wind theme, and runners are served by Rhett, Scarlett and the rest of the characters from the 1939 movie.  They have signs leading to the aid station with quotes from the movie, such as "I'm very drunk. I intend on getting drunker before this evening's over" (an intention that many runners probably shared) and "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." (likely a warning to complaining runners not to waste their breath).

12:10 p.m. - "Thru Wolf Run at mile 26 . ITS hot out here"
The heat is starting to bother me.  Tom and I continue together.  It is only two miles to the next aid station at Fountainhead, but it is mostly up and downhill.

At the aid station I get a slice of plain pizza, and we head out into the two miles of the white loop, then on the trail passed the archery range signs warning about entry, and get to the aid station at the entry to the approximately three mile long "do-loop."

1:43 p.m. - "Into do loop at 32.5 miles"
Partway through the loop Tom asks me to take his picture and I oblige.  I take two and he provides me with his email address so that I can send them to him.  About three quarters of the way through the wooded loop we hear a rustling to our right.  We look in that direction and galloping down a slope on the other side of a swale is a herd of about seven deer, headed directly toward us.  We lose sight of them in the swale and as the leaders emerge up the slope of our side about twenty yards away the two leading deer see us and turn left.  The remainder follow them, saving us from the risk of being trampled.  (I am aware of at least two deer-runner collisions, both of which required hospital visits.)

2:31 p.m. - "Do loop out at 35 miles. Low on GUs."
I'm starting to feel tired.  My time has been slowing down, and it turns out that I take four minutes more to get through the do loop this year compared to last year.  I've been taking GUs and Succeeds! but it is starting be be a struggle.

3:14 p.m. - "Thru Fountainhead AS at mile 38. Feeling tired. Moving forward. No surrender."
The "No surrender" remark is meant mostly as a reminder to me.  Truth is, I'm feeling exhausted.  Tom has run out of the aid station, and I cannot do much more than walk.  (He finishes his first BRR in 12:00.)  There is a short section alongside a feeder creek to Bull Run that I'm able to force myself to run, but that is about all.  The last uphill to the aid station is exhausting. It takes me 40 minutes to go the next two miles back to Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station, nine minutes longer than in either of the previous two years.

3:54 p.m. - "Wolf Run AS at 39 9. In dark place mentally. Sitting tor 5 minutes."
When I arrive at the aid station I need a break.  I sit down in a folding camp chair and set my watch's timer for five minutes.  I've never sat at an aid station before other than to change shoes or clothing, but I've got to find a way to regroup, both physically and mentally.  An aid station worker brings me a cup of ice water.  My head has been feeling odd - faint, perhaps? altered state of consciousness? - but no hallucinations.

The watch timer goes off.  I get up.  I feel better.  I get an ice cream sandwich from one of the workers - another specialty of the Wolf Run aid station - and head out.  I even start to run a bit.

4:11 p.m. - "Ice cream sandwich plus sitdown and I'm BACK. THE BAD PATCH has passed. Wont be fast but feeling much better."
Only 17 minutes after tweeting about being in a 'dark place' I feel like I've recovered.  Still lots of walking, but I'm also running sections as well.

The recovery lasts for about ten minutes and fizzles out entirely.  The best I can do is walk.  And while I can usually walk at a brisk pace, I cannot do that now.  I just plod onward.  My spirits are temporarily lifted when I spot what I think is a eagle in flight, but I cannot even translate that into faster forward motion.

Finally I arrive at the Marina aid station, 5.5 from the finish.  I sit down on a bench while a volunteer brings me a cold wet towel that I place over the back of my neck.  I note that my finger tips are swollen.  Is that from too much salt as I've taken six Succeeds! by then, and additional salt in Gatorade and GUs, or is it from dehydration, and I should take more water and less salt now?  I don't know, but I decide that I've had enough Succeeds! for the day.

Caroline W. a member of our MCRRC Absolute Zeros team comes into the aid station and urges me to come along with her.  But I'm still sitting and tell her to go along without me.

5:28 p.m. - "Last 5.5 miles underway. Death march."
That tweet summed it up.  I knew I could finish. But not much more than that.

About a mile or two along I hear a familiar voice behind me.  It's Caroline.  She had apparently stopped to us a Porta-potty by the soccer fields that the course winds through and I had gotten ahead of her.

6:09 p.m. - "Vomit gatorade with 3.5 miles left. Walking with Caroline W. We will finish."
Caroline W. admires Bull Run around mile 48
The vomiting settles my stomach.  I don't feel particularly better but with Caroline leading the way, we actually do some running.  At one point along Bull Run I ask her to stop and pose for a picture.

We press on, go walk up the final hill, and get to the finish line in 12:34.  It took me 49 minutes longer to do the last 10.5 miles this year compared to 2011 and 55 minutes more than in 2010.  And I was a full hour slower than in 2011.  But I was faster than in 2009, another hot year at Bull Run that involved vomiting.

7:23 p.m. - "Finished in about 13:34 [sic]. Brutal."
I find Absolute Zeros teammate Larry B. He finished in 12:03 and has already showered and changed.  We are waiting for the fourth member of the team Jim D., to finish to see if we have successfully defended our title as Slowest team.

MCRRC Absolute Zeros
(Caroline W. absent from picture)
As the clock ticks toward 13:00, Larry is becoming anxious.  In order for our team not to be disqualified, Jim must be an official finisher under 13:00.  12:50 passes, then 12:55.  We don't see Jim approaching the finish line..  But then there's a voice behind us, and it's Jim.  He had finished in 12:40, but neither Larry nor I had seen him.

7:39 p.m. - Absolute Zeros repeat as slowest team!
As the clock hits 13:00 we go to the scorers table and they confirm that we are once again the slowest team in the race.  We gratefully accept our team champion blankets and plan to return next year to attempt a three-peat.

BRR swag - tee shirt, hoodie, glass,
and team championship blanket