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.