Monday, March 26, 2012

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K - March 3, 2012

(Compliments of Dan DiFonzo)
The Short Version
Started at Damascus Recreational Park. Ran to Seneca Creek State Park.  Ran around Clopper Lake. Ran to Riley's Lock.  Finished 168th of 180. In what time?  Well, that's at the bottom of this report.

There was mud. And 34 miles, not 31.1 miles.  For $10 what would you expect?

The Longer Version
There's not actually a longer version, other than to say that the course was two miles longer than last year and the mud throughout the day took a toll on my thighs as they worked hard to keep me upright as my feet slipped around.  The net result of the mud and the added miles and hills was to add almost an hour and a half (1:27) to my time from 2011.  But I'll discuss themes that came up throughout the day. And some vignettes.

Like we did at the George Washington Birthday Marathon, Jennifer W. and I ran together the entire way.  It's good practice in togetherness, as we plan to run the Black Hills 100K together in June.

Crossing Seneca Creek at Mile 3
(Ken in blue hat, gray shirt.)
The Zen of Running Long I
"If I pass you then I'll be past you.  So I won't pass you," she says on the far side of Clopper Lake. Seventeen miles into a trail run makes the statement perfectly logical.

I had just asked the runner behind Jennifer and me if she wanted to go by.  "If I pass you," she explains further, "then you'll just pass me again in a little bit.  So there is no reason to go by."  That makes sense. No need to waste physical and mental energy leapfrogging each other.

And then she passes us.  And we stayed passed as she pulls away from us.

Anger Mismanagement I
The first hint that I was to have  rare moments of anger during the run came shortly before the preceding zen moment.  I was running in front of Jennifer and another runner had joined us while we circled Clopper Lake.  We were chatting in the companionable manner that trail runners do.  Then several more runners joined our group.  I had offered to let them go by but they were content to follow and let me set the pace for our small  pack.

But for some reason this bothered me.  I'm not sure why. Maybe I felt pressure to run faster than I would otherwise.  Maybe I didn't like the perceived pressure of being in charge of pace-setting. So I dropped back a step to get even with Jennifer and told her to be ready as I was going to pick up the pace and drop the pack.  As soon as we came to a slight downslope with good footing, I appreciably picked up the tempo.  Jennifer and I separated from our group of followers.

Maybe they passed us later.  Maybe they didn't.  I still don't know why I felt a need to change the situation, as I'm generally chatty with whoever I come across on the trail.  But not at that time.

The Zen of Running Long II
At one point Jennifer and I are running alone.  We can't see anyone ahead of us or behind us.  I tell her that since we have no other points of reference, i.e., other runners, at that moment we may be leading the race or we may be last.  It is an observation that I've made at other times, but Jennifer hasn't heard me say it, so that makes it new. At least to her.

Shortly afterward some runners catch up with us.  One of them points out that until they saw and caught up with us they could not tell, within their own frame of reference, whether they were leading or trailing.

Apparently this is a common zen insight - or hallucination - of trail runners.

Anger Mismanagement II
In order for SCGT runners to see a new trail, the Seneca Ridge Trail, race creator and director Ed Schultze has the course leave the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail and follow the new trail, which he helped build.  On this muddy day it has the advantage of being away from the creek and is considerably drier.  On the other hand, it is hilly and it is a couple of miles longer.  And unlike the Greenway Trail, it has no mile posts.  Ordinarily that doesn't bother me, but today is the first time I've been on this trail, and I have not sense of the distance.  And it starts about 20 miles into the race.

As we run the hills - the downhills, by now we are walking the uphills - I am becoming angry.  I'm angry at Ed for adding these hills and these extra miles, as the course was already well over 50K.  I'm angry that I don't know where I am relative to the next aid station.  I'm angry that I've passed a sign that says "2 miles to Pringles and Other Fake Food" when I know that it is well more that two miles to that aid station (more on that below).

I can't help myself.  I yell at him, "If I had a freaking gun you'd be a dead man."  Except that I don't say "freaking" but another word that starts with "f."  Ed chuckles. "Some people had complained that that section was too flat," he says. "I hoped you enjoyed the views."

My anger spent, I concede that the views down to the creek are pretty good.  But then we cross the road and resume another couple of miles on the hills of Seneca Ridge Trail.  The anger returns.

At Route 28 Aid Station
(compliments of Don L.)
The Wit of Don L.
One of the pleasures of SCGT 50K is the aid station at Route 28, at about mile 27. It is run by Don L. and his daughter Kenna, and every year features a food theme.  And to entertain runners along the way and get them in to the mood for the food, Don puts up signs along the trail, starting 15 miles away.

Some years the signs only hint at the themes but this year the signs announce the theme, Pringles.  Don kindly sent me the text of the signs, and I present them here with some comments (mine in [] and Don's in [italics])

Just past the Route 355 crossing (about mile 11):
"What will Ed do now that he has retired as RD?"
[Ed has decided to retire as race director following the first nine years of the race that he created.]

Pringles Supermodel?
"Ed?" with arrow pointing to hand-drawn Pringles can.
[You have to see the Pringles logo to appreciate this.]

Near the underpass of the CSX tracks:
Pringles: Better than tofu!
[Referencing a previous food theme.]

Pringles: Almost better than Peeps!
[A reference to another previous food theme.]

Pringles: 42% real potatoes! Mmm!!
[This is a true statistic by the way.]

Approaching Clopper Lake (about mile 15):
Pringles: The choice of people who love their food from a can! (Dog approved!)
[Parenthetical on the sign.]

Pringles: 1 serving = 1 can

At Riffleford Road (about mile 17):
2.5 times better than potato chips!
(Where "better" means less potatoey!)
[Again, parenthetical on the sign.]

The perfect balanced diet:
Equal amounts of MSG and HFCS!

Everyone's favorite hyperbolic paraboloid!

At the Route 118 road crossing (mile 21?):
World record holder for eating Pringles during 9 consecutive SCG races.
Congrats Cathy Blessing, you maniac!
[9 was placed on an extra layer to suggest the number is being updated.]
[Cathy Blessing is one of only two persons to have run in every SCGT race. Even though she now lives in the Southwest, she returns every year for the race.]

2 miles to Pringles and Other Fake Food
[Yes, we knew the mileage was inaccurate but we were using "Ed miles".]
[This is the sign that added to my anger.]

You'll love our Pringles Original!
[small print] (We can't afford the more expensive flavors!)
[Not true: we actually had some of the more exotic flavors.]
[And the last aid station at Berryville Road (mile 31) also had exotic flavored Pringles including dill pickle.]

Starting at Black Rock Mill (about mile 25):

1 mile to Pringles and Other Lethal Food

Pringles: Stale when fresh!

Jennifer and Ken enjoy Pringles at Don's Aid Station
(Compliments of Don L.)
Pringles: Not proven to be carcinogenic!

Pringles: Because everyone loves food molded from dehydrated, uh, stuff.

1/2 mile to Pringles and Other Not Food

Welcome to Pringleville
[small print] (We also have sawdust!)

[PS: One runner came in to the aid station and accused us of being paid to advertise Pringles. Were our signs not insulting enough?]

Jennifer, who is a Pringles fan, is excited early on about the prospect of having them at the aid station, but Don's increasingly negative signs began to rob her of her excitement as we approached the aid station.

Anger Mismanagement III
Somewhere late in the race I'm feeling tired and beaten down.  A volunteer offers me the ritual "looking good" encouragement.  "Don't lie to me," I snap back.

Mad Dash
Most of the last mile of the race is on the unpaved Tschiffely Mill Road.  As we come off the path in the woods and onto the hard surface I look at my watch and tell Jennifer that if we hurry we can finish under the official cut-off of eight hours.  While the cut-off is "official,"  there are no consequences of failing to meet it.  The race awards no medals, clothing, certificates or prizes for making it.  There is absolutely no reason to hurry now.

SCGT swag
(Note that the bibs are recycled from another race.)
Today for some reason,  it is now important to me to try.  Usually I'm so tired at this point of SCGT50K that I usually walk part of Tschiffely Mill Road.

Not today.  Jennifer and I pick you the pace.  Maybe it is a chance to run on a hard surface without worrying about mud - although we still have to dodge potholes and puddles.  We push hard.  Finally, around the last slight curve in the road the finish line comes in sight.  Jennifer moves ahead of me but we both dash across the line.

Only then does the time on the clock register in my brain.  It says 8:02 and some seconds.  I look at my watch.  It says 7:59.  I want that sub-8:00 finish. "Your clock is wrong," I say to the timekeepers.  "We know" they say, "We are taking three minutes off."   My official time is posted as 7:59:27.  Jennifer is three seconds ahead of me.