Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rosaryville Veterans' Day 50K - November 9, 2013

To Race or to Run?
Gayatri, me, Sam and Rebecca trying to stay warm pre-race.
Gayatri and Sam, who is running her first ultra, have registered in advance for the race, but Rebecca and I had to contact the race director in order to get on the wait list and then get into the race.  The race, in its fourth year, had sold out before we had a chance to register.  We have to register at the park, but our names our on the approved list and registration is fast and easy.

Jeanne warms the pipes prior
to National Anthem.
The day is a bit cool and frost marks the grass in the shade of the pavilion at the start, but Jeanne Lou Who delivers her usual impressive rendition of the National Anthem and off we go.

As the defending Male 60+ Age Group champion at the Rosaryville Veterans' Day 50K I have an early decision to make.  Shall I try to defend my title, the only one I've every won, or should I just enjoy the day?

I mull this over while on the 40 minute drive out to Rosaryville State Park with Gayatri, Sam and Rebecca.  More on my mind though is the thought of getting to go to one of the few Bojangles in the DC area after the race.

The aid station midway thru the loops.
Rebecca and I start off together down the road that leads to the entry to the mountain bike trail that we will run three loops on.  As has become somewhat of a Rosaryville tradition for me I quickly realize that I need an equipment adjustment.  This time I've forgotten to attach my gaiters to my shoes, so we stop and I do so.

Decision Time
After passing the aid station midway through the first loop (there is a second aid station at the entry to the loops) we are joined by a runner I think I  recognize.

Rebecca followed by Tom G.
"Aren't you one of those Bull Run Run 50 Mile guys with lots of finishes?" I ask.

"Yes," he replies, "I have 21."  He's Tom G., and no one has more BRR finishes.

Now it is time to decide whether today is a run or race day.  Tom and I are the same age and I figure that if I want to defend my title, modest though it be, I'll have to beat him.

Rebecca follows me across the footbridge
on the first loop.
(Photo by Jon Valentine)
Last year Rebecca and I ran the first loop together before I set out to try to win the age group.  Now the decision come earlier.  Tom is starting to gradually move away from us.

I decide.  "Enjoy the day," I say to him. I'm going to enjoy a stress-free day in the woods running and chatting with Rebecca.

Which we do. Not even three falls, one each on my hands and knees, on my side and even a rare butt fall can ruin the day.

With three loops the course is designed to allow runners to access their drop bags twice at the aid station at the beginning of the second and third loops.  For late Fall races this is very convenient as it allows one to shed layers or change to lighter clothing as the day goes on.  I start the day with two long sleeve shirts, a hat, buff and gloves and finish with shorts and one shirt with the sleeves pushed up with the surplus clothing stashed in the drop bag.

Painted rocks to trip over.
Tom goes on to win the 60+ age group in 6:08.  Rebecca and I take our time and finish in 6:41, with me being third of five in the age group, 81 of 95 males and 123/147 overall.

Follow the black arrows!
At the finish I thank Race Director Tom D. for the pleasant day for for allowing me to run it even though I missed the on-line sign-up.  He tells me that there are only a handful of people who have run all four of the races and that he'll have to think of something special for five-time finishers in 2014.  I guess I'll have to return then, I reply.

Sam and Gayatri finish in 7:23. Sam also finishes with a souvenir of her first trail ultra - a cracked rib from tripping over a day-glo marked rock.

Once we have all finished it is off to Bojangles for a spicy chicken sandwich, fries and sweet potato pie.  Pretty much a good ending to a good day.
Halloween Darth Vader at trail side
A tree bike for really going off-road.

The trail side dry "aid station".

Four fingers for four finishes!
(Photo by Jon Valentine)

Swag: Hat, Medal and Bib.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon - October 27, 2013

0545 AIS
It's 5:45 a.m. Sunday morning and all five 'As' of Cinco Amigos Tres are 'I' 'Ss' of Jennifer's new-to-her Honda Odyssey. Rebecca, always fearful of being without food, has brought a box of Shoppers' Colossal Donuts (no joke - that's what the box accurately calls them) and a bag of pretzels. We also have the remainder of the pumpkin ring cake that Rebecca brought for dessert to last night's pre-race dinner at our house.  She also brought a chocolate cake and four cartons of ice cream for the seven of us at dinner. The ice cream and chocolate cake don't make it into the car for breakfast.

On the way Emaad entertains us with a description of the Brazil Butt Lift infomercial that he watched when he awoke early.  Jennifer offers her children's leftover jelly beans that are rolling around in the tray between the front seats.  Barry's back is still bothering him from a strain but he is willing to give MCM a shot.  He will be carrying a Metro card in case he finds that he needs to drop.

Getting in Position
Without incident we drive to the Rosslyn Holiday Inn where MCRRC has its hospitality suite.  Along Lee Highway we drive past Marines setting up the water stop just beyond mile 2.  We secure a table, and then discuss what to wear. The morning promises to be cool but the day looks to be mostly sunny with temperatures rising into the mid 50s.  After much of the usual discussion of what to wear - tights? shirts (how many? Long or short sleeves?) Throw away top? Trash bags? Hats? Gloves? Arm warmers? - everyone settles out on their apparel and we move out for the walk to the start line.

Parachutist descends with flag pre-race.
As we approach it - our path takes us along Route 110 toward the start from the front of the course - we see the parachute team descending carrying large American flags.  Just before reaching the start line the Marines stop us by the starting howitzer and I'm excited that I'll get a close-up picture of it firing for the start of the wheelchair racers at 7:55.  After a couple of minutes we are waved along and we make our way into the starting area.    We walk a bit toward the rear so as not to be up with the faster runners.  We move to the median of Route 110 to be out of the way of the runners on both sides.

(l to r) Emaad, Rebecca, Barry, Jennifer and I keep warm at the start.
At precisely 8:00 a.m. the howitzer fires again for the start of the race.  MCM does not use corrals to separate fast runners from slower runners.  Instead it has pylons with estimated times that allows runners to self-seed themselves.  Since we are standing toward the front of the crowd, we allow runners to flow past us.  We allow the 4:00 pacer to go by with her sign and balloons and in a short while discard our trash bags and other disposable warm-ups before joining the runners walking toward the starting mat.  We comment about the amount and quality of warm-up gear disposed as runners head forward and I briefly pick up a banana before reluctantly putting it back down.

Runners descend Spout Run past mile 3.
Barry drops back but the other four of us trot on ahead.  Emaad's goal is to run 4:10.  He's asked Rebecca to help pace him.  Jennifer plans to finish.  She can run fast, but a lack of training may keep her from using the speed.  My goal is a bit fuzzy.  I'd like to run abut 4:30 and I'm wearing a pace band for that goal, but I'm also planning to be happy to be under 4:45.  I'll let the day unfold in its own manner.

Less than a mile in we head up the slight hill into Rosslyn and I tell the others to go on.  I drop back and go thru the first mile in about 10:35, a pretty leisurely pace that suggests that it won't be a fast day.  But even before we get out of Rosslyn and turn onto Lee Highway I catch up to the other three.  That apparently is enough of a spur for Emaad and he takes off.  About mile 2 Rebecca and Jennifer decide to avail themselves of the Porta-potties and I go on alone.

Scenes from a Marathon
On Rock Creek Parkway about mile 9.
As I catch up with a pair of women running with shirts with 'Mexico' on them, I greet them with a "Viva Mexico!"  They respond with a "vamos!" which I do.

Running up stream in Rock Creek Park around mile 6 I pull even with a woman wearing the technical shirt given out at the expo to the runners.  It replaced the traditional mock turtleneck that was reviled by every woman runner that I know.  "You are tempting the marathon gods," I tell her.  "What do you mean?" she replies. "You are wearing the shirt for the race before I have run it," I say.  Another runner chimes in, "It's bad karma."  "Never heard that" she says and goes on to explain that she hadn't brought enough shirts for the cool weather.  Since this is her fourth MCM, I tell her that I'm sure it will be OK.

 Eighty-six wheel racers finish the race, most in the hand crank division.  Most runners are encouraging to these athletes and admire their ability to get their bodies and wheels up hills using nothing but their arms and hands.  Unfortunately there are also ignorant, self-centered runners who insist on running with headphones and the volume turned up so high that they can't hear the shouts of "Move left" and impede the progress of the wheel racers, especially on the downhills.  Fortunately for the ignorant - and maybe for me - they are too far in front of me to for me to do anything but shout.  And shout I do.  Had I been closer . . . .

It isn't just wheel racers and persons in shirts with pictures of fallen friends, siblings, spouses and family members who remind the rest of us at MCM that there is high price paid by those who practice diplomacy by other means.  About mile 9 I come upon the runner pictured above. And the sign on his back indicates that he runs for others as well.

Somewhere past the Kennedy Center near mile 10 some runners and I joke about where we are relative to other runners.  I note that while there are thousands of runners ahead of us there are also thousands behind us.  I say that my goal is to finish in the top 4 digits, i.e, not be beaten by 10,000.

DC fireboat salutes runners.
The stretch of the course along the Potomac approaching the halfway mark at Hains Point is nearly 2 miles long.  Race photographers sit near the entrance to East Potomac Park and on scaffolding over it to snap pictures of the runners cheering and waving for the cameras.  Past the photo location crowds drop off appreciably and the runners are left to contemplate what, over the past several years, has become known as "The Blue Mile."

Along the side of the course is a row of equally spaced signs with blue backgrounds.  Each sign has the name of a service member and their picture along with the date and location of their death in the wars of the past eleven years.  Each year the row gets longer. A row of persons clad in blue suits holds American flags after the row of pictures.   It is a somber moment even for those self-absorbed with their run.

Throughout the race I have been seeing members of the MCRRC First Time Marathoners group.  I give them encouragement and sometimes chat with them.  Quite by chance I chat up Conroy Z, one of the directors of the program.  In response to a question he tells me that only 40 percent of the persons in the program are actually doing their first marathon; the other 60 percent have completed one or more marathons.

Approaching the Capitol near mile 18.
About mile 17 I catch up to Ray, an MCM fixture who carries a flag in the race.  I ask him if I may carry it a bit and, like last year, he agrees.  A Marine along the side of the course comes to attention and salutes.  I carry it a bit and then he says that he needs to walk and can't keep up with me.  I thank him for allowing me the honor and return the flag to him.

The Marathon Begins NOW
At mile 20, I tweet "Mile 20. The marathon begins NOW."  There are shirts that joke "A marathon is a just 10K following a 20 mile warm-up."  There is some truth in this, especially at MCM.  At mile 20 the course heads across the 14th Street bridge from DC to Virginia.  The next two miles are a long stretch with none of the crowds that have been inspiring runners for most of the day.  Runners start to walk.  One can see far ahead and progress seems slow.  I try to stay focused.

I'm getting a bit tired but it is more mental than physical.  One side of my brain says it is OK to walk, the other side says stay strong. Finally about mile 22 we make the turn into Crystal City where more crowds await to rejuvenate the runners. I've slowed down a bit in mile 22 but the crowds give me energy to maintain the pace thru mile 23.

But the course turns into a long slow uphill with fewer crowds on the back side of Crystal City.  I avoid walking in front of the enthusiastic rooters at the milepost, but start walking afterward.  I spot the refreshment tables up ahead and veer toward them, but retract my hand and swerve away when I see that they are not giving out drinks but instead are offering donut holes, about the last thing I want to eat at this time. The next water stop is about a third of a mile along and I drink before heading under I-395 for the run - without crowds - around the Pentagon parking lot and onto Washington Boulevard. By now I'm walking more.

On Washington Boulevard, just passed the Pentagon 9-11 memorial, I spot shadows approaching on either side. "Hi, Ken," Rebecca bubbles as Jennifer pulls up on the other side.  It has taken them 22 miles, but they have run me down.

"Go on," I urge.  Rebecca nods and pulls away.  Jennifer claims that she is spent from their effort to catch up with me but I know that she is just being kind.  When I walk she walks.  I try to gain strength from her and it helps, particularly on the downhills.  She's talking away.  Meanwhile my world view is shrinking and all I can concentrate on is moving forward.  I'm not sure that I can even hear her or process what she is saying or even understand the words.  Finally I apologize and ask her to stop talking.  She says she understands and stops.

At mile 26 we make the left turn to go up the hill to the Marine Corps Memorial.  I walk, then I run, then I have to stop running.  As we approach the last 100 yards in front of the spectator stands Jennifer tells me we have to run.  It's what I need to hear.  We run - probably slowly - but it feels right and we finish side-by-side.

Top Four Digits 
My 4:27:58 is my second fastest marathon time (4:34 slower than my 2012 MCM marathon PR) and is good for 113 of 394 in the M60-64 age group and 6594 of 13,530 males.  More importantly it is good for 9627 out of the 23,521 finishers, allowing me to finish before the counter turned over the fifth digit.  Oorah!

Emaad finishes in a 12 minute PR of 4:08.  Rebecca finishes in 4:26.  Barry, after passing the Blue Mile, decided that quitting was not appropriate, especially as his back started to loosen up, goes on the finish in a bit over 5 hours.

Bonus Post Race Report
Jennifer and I get congratulations
from USMC lieutenant at finish.
Just beyond the finish I lean over the railing at the side of the course to catch my breath and regain some strength.  After a couple of minutes we get in line to gather our finisher's medals.  In the tradition of MCM, a USMC lieutenant drapes the medal over one's neck, straightens up and salutes the finisher.  I return the salute.

As we work our way to the exit from the finisher area, we get our snack boxes, bananas, Gatorade, water and disposable poncho.  We are nearly out of the area when Rebecca spots us and joins us.

Rebecca stands by fence separating finishers
from 'zombie' spectators.
Leaving the finishers' area we see hundreds of spectators and family members on the other side of a temporary chain link fence anxiously scanning for their runners.  It reminds me a bit of the zombies outside the fence on the Walking Dead.  The spectators don't seem amused when I share my observation that they look a bit like zombies to me.

With the Watermelon Queen post-race.
Finally we exit the area and start our walk back to the Holiday Inn.  But there is one more treat still to be had.  There on the street are representatives of the the National Watermelon Promotion Board handing out packages of the refreshing red fruit including Watermelon Queens from various states.

Not a bad way to end my eighth MCM.

MCM Swag: Shirt, Medal, Patch, Program, Snack Box and Bib.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marathon du Medoc - September 7, 2013

Medoc Spirit
"Spoilsports, thugs and record seekers are not invited!"

This is part of the official Marathon du Medoc spirit, which consists of "health, sport, conviviality and fun." And wine.  Twenty tests oeno-sportifs (degustations de grands crus), better known in English as wine tasting stops. As well as oysters, ham, cheese, sandwiches, beef, oysters on the half shell, and ice cream.  And the usual runners food of cookies, crackers, oranges and the like at roughly 20 aid stations. Water and cola were also available at numerous locations as well.

Did I mention costumes and floats?  About 90 percent of the runners wore some sort of costume, most following the 2013 theme of Science Fiction, although there were also pirates, smurfs, French bakers, and numerous others.  Put 8500 fun-seeking runners on the roads of Medoc, tell them to run from chateau to chateau for 42 kilometers and you have a day-long moving party.

This is a story better told with pictures so I'll keep the narrative fairly short and follow it with plenty of pictures.

The Narrative
Rebecca, An and I took the bus from the center of Bordeaux to Pauillac for the start of the race.  An when off to pick up his rental bicycle so that he could intercept us at various places along the course.  The morning was a bit cool and overcast, but except for a stray drop or two, we had no rain.  Twenty miles south in Bordeaux it rained most of the day.

As I noted about 90 percent of the runners wore costumes, with the majority inspired by the 2013 "Science Fiction" theme.  Rebecca and I went with matching steam punk technical shirts, figuring it was the best combination of comfortable running gear while adhering to the theme. There were plenty of Princess Leias, both male and female, a full costumed Chewbacca, lots of blue Avatars, Martians, Supermen, space men and aliens.  There were also costumes that didn't follow the theme including French bakers, pirates, cave men, construction workers and others that were hard to identify.

There were also floats pushed the entire way.  I recall seeing a steamroller, pirate ship, hospital bed, UFO, sofa and winged wine barrel.  The steamroller float was sponsored by a local construction company, and its crew wore orange costumes and hard hats, which they gave away to children along the way.

The race takes place just a few weeks before the grape harvest and the vines are heavy with fruit.  Rebecca and I sampled some grapes (they were from a bunch that were on the ground, so we didn't feel like we were abusing the chateau's hospitality) and they were sweet.  The scenery was wonderful, with about 60 spectacular chateaus on the course, non-stop acres of vineyards, gently rolling country roads, about a dozen villages and occasional views of the Gironde River.

We met folks from all over during the run. There was a Canadian couple from Vancouver who had nothing good to say about the Quebecois.  A Scottish woman who immediately recognized our steampunk shirts and pointed out her own steampunk goggles perched on top of her hat with a picture of her brother and his two pet chickens. The French pirates who responded positively to my "Arr, maties!" call. (Apparently speaking pirate is a universal language.)   The peculiarly costumed French runners in yellow suits with what appeared to be red rooster combs on their head, but when asked about their chicken costumes, they informed us that they were "Super Shoe" (that's what it sounded like), from some French sci-fi cartoon TV show or movies of the 1980s.

The course consisted of roughly two large loops from Pauillac, the first going south, then returning to pass through parts of the town around KM 22 before heading to the north.  This allowed those who wanted to drop out at the halfway point the chance to do so.  Given that there were 7905 finishers out of 8500 entrants, not too many seemed to want the miss the second half of the course.

An met us at various random places on the course, depending on what back roads he could use to get from place to place. Rebecca would share her wine with him and as the band at Chateau Pichon-Longueville struck up a Cajun tune, the two of them broke out dancing.  There is video, but Rebecca has expressly prohibited me from posting it.

We did dial back the wine tasting during the second half.  The chateaus did not skimp on the pours and unless one had done some serious "drinking while running" training, it would have been a challenge.  We met a woman on the flight over who did practice that technique, however. At most chateaus we used a taste and dump strategy, but even with that, there were a few later in the course that we simply did not sample.  I did not however, "sip and spit" at Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one of the five premier grands crus of Bordeaux. That was all sip.

With one exception the wines were reds; not surprising given that we were in Medoc.  That exception was a white served at KM 38 with the raw oysters.  The Arcachon Basin, about 30 miles to the west of Bordeaux is noted for its oysters.  They were saltier than U.S. oysters, but that made them perfect for runners. Washed down with the white, and served on the bank of the Gironde River, they were a perfect treat.

The slogan of Marathon du Medoc is "Le marathon le plus long du monde" (the longest marathon in the world) and that was our approach to it.  I wore a 6:20 pace band, determined to spend as much time as possible on the course but still finish under 6:30, the official cutoff.  We succeeded, finishing in 6:13 gun time (6:08:54 chip time, 5718 of 7905). My time was over an hour slower than any previous marathon and nearly an hour and a half slower than my last marathon. Medoc my be my longest but it certainly is the best.

At the finish we received a finishers' medal, a backpack, a cup on a lanyard, and a bottle of 2002 Chateau La Tour De Mons cru bourgeois Margaux in a wooden box commemorating the 29th Marathon du Medoc.   Rebecca also received a rose.  On the box is the Medoc tipsy runner logo with him saying, "Le Medoc je l'ai fait!" (I finished Medoc!).  Yup, I did.

A non-runner's blog with plenty of good pictures of runners and floats is here.

Pictures are Worth Lots of Words

Supermen line up for express relief prior to the start.

Aerial acrobats entertain at the start.

And we are off! Rebecca wears our
steampunk shirt on the right.

A line of runners thru the vineyard toward Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste at KM 2.

The band at Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste strikes a tropical theme.

A view from the the road, maybe around KM 3.

Examining the wine at Chateau Larose Trintaudon at KM 6. . . .

. . .  and the first taste of the day!

Rebecca raises a glass
at Chateau Belgrave at KM 8  . . .
. . . or is it Chateau Lagrange at KM 9?

Another few KM and another chateau to visit.

The winged barrel rolls thru Beychevelle.

Approaching Chateau Branaire-Ducru at KM 13.

The sofa float leaving Chateau Branaire-Ducru.

Time for another wine tasting
at Chateau Beychevelle at KM 13.
Yes, another excellent Bordeaux!
Rebecca (2nd from left) runs on with varied costumed participants someplace around KM 17.
Rebecca and I toast each other
at Chateau Pichon-Longueville at KM 17.
A memorial to the soldiers of the village of
Saint-Julien Beychevelle killed in WW I.

An (2nd from right) celebrates with "Arthur Dents" from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
at Chateau Pichon-Longueville.

Rebecca raises a glass at Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande at KM 18. . . 

. . . and I do likewise.

Not every chateau served wine.  Only water here at Chateau Lynch Bages at KM 20.

Runners pass another war memorial after leaving Chateau Pontet Canet near KM 24.

A classic car display at Chateau Lafite Rothschild at KM 26.

Runners take a dip in the pond at Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

Approaching Chateau Cos Labory at KM 27.

In the background EMTs attend to someone down on the ground at Chateau Cos Labory.

Rebecca and I enjoy sandwiches at Chateau Pomys (?) at KM 31- ham and cheese for me; cheese for Rebecca.

Ice cream at KM 42
Our final snack on the course.

Swag: shirt, backpack, cup on a lanyard, medal, wine tasting cup, boxed bottle of wine.