Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K - November 10, 2012

Earned, not given.
"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.

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?