Monday, April 1, 2013

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K - March 2, 2013

The Course Turned Around
The 2013 version of the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail race was run in the opposite direction of the previous nine years editions, from Riley's Lock at the Potomac River to the Damascus Regional Park.  This is a mixed blessing.  On the plus side, it means that the one water crossing of the creek will come only three or four miles from the end, rather than three to four miles from the start.  On the down side, the race will be net uphill, although the net rise is only a few hundred feet.

After parking at the start I take the bus to the start.  Since all runners are pre-registered via an email all that's necessary is to hand in my registration form and a check for $15 to get my bib and chip.  Chip timing is a new innovation for the 350 runner race but it provides the race organizers a simple way to know who started and who finished.  Sweepers also keep track of stragglers.

The weather is a bit chilly - temperatures never get above the mid-30's - but there's no rain and the absence of snow or any significant amount of precipitation the previous week means the course is in fine shape, with no ice, snow and very little mud.

Happy Running Approaching Route 28
The race starts on time and I run at the rear of the pack with Mark Z. and Don L., who is attempting his first 50K.  Don has been having soreness in his hip and doesn't know how far he will get but he's starting out easy  as he doesn't know what to expect or what his pace should be.  We run easily up the gravel Tschiffley Mill Road, cross River Road onto Seneca Road before getting onto the trail after a mile.  I find the pace a bit to slow and leave Mark and Don.

The 5.7 miles from there to the Aid station at Route 28 pass pleasantly.  The footing is firm on parts of the course that were thick mud last year and the company is pleasant as I chat with runners I know.

Just past the aid station I come upon Stephanie F.  We exchange greetings and I move past her, looking for an opportunity to duck behind a tree for a moment of privacy.  I get what I calculate to be far enough away but I'm either a bit slower than I planned or she is faster than I calculated and I have to maneuver a bit to retain privacy.

Why Runners Have More Fun - Than Racers
Mission accomplished, I fall in with Monika B. as we head for Black Rock Mill.  She points out to me that this portion of the trial has been rerouted and was built by mountain bikers who were barred from the older section of the trail.  The bikers agreed to help build the trail if they could use it.

Jim D. Moving Along
We pass the mill, cross the road and follow the newer bike trail uphill rather than the blue-blazed Seneca Creek Greenway Trail that stays closer to the creek.  In a bit we catch up with Jim D., a teammate of mine on the MCRRC Absolute Zeroes, the two-time defending Bull Run Run 50 Miler holder of the slowest team title.  We are going back again this year and SCGT is a de facto training run for us.  He's doing the marathon distance today.

Up and Over
 Monika and I discuss various trail runs we have done.  She is beginning to embrace the idea of running for the enjoyment of the journey rather than the enjoyment that comes with winning races.  And she knows winning, having won the 2006 SCGT marathon distance and the 2006 Capon Valley 50K.  I tell her how much I like Capon, having run it five times.  She replies how much she disliked it, having raced it the three times she was there (with 6th and 8th place finishes to go with her victory).  Today she is out enjoying herself.

The Bone of Contention
Somewhere after crossing Route 118 I spy a bone near a tree.  I know a perfect prop when I see one and I promptly pick it up.  It appears to be a tibia (the larger of the two bones of the lower leg) and it is devoid of any soft tissue and appears to be free of any signs of having been gnawed on by scavengers.

As I pass some runners I exclaim "Caveman style running," waving my find.  There is a steel barrel alongside the trail and I merrily bang on it.  

Nothing Like a Snack on the Trail
As I approach the road crossing at Riffle Ford Road I stash it in the back of my shorts.  I approach the volunteer course marshal and tell her that my leg is bothering my and I may need medical attention.  A look of concern comes over her face.  Then, reaching behind my back and pulling the bone out I say, "but it fells better ever since I took this out."  Her worried look dissolves into a chuckle.

Getting to the Riffle Ford Road Aid Station I look over the cookies, candy and other things to eat, wave the bone and tell them that the food was better at the previous aid station.

Following Monika B.
 The bone provides hours of fun - at least for me - the rest of the day.  I try to get Monika to run ahead to the aid station at Clopper Lake and tell them a runner with an injured leg is coming.  But it turns out that the aid station has something worthy of my bone - bacon.  Admittedly it isn't warm, but it is the pre-cooked variety and to a bacon lover like me, it takes good.

Monika and I arrive at Clopper Lake at 11:20 a.m., ten minutes before the official cutoff to take the roughly three mile loop around the lake for the 50K distance. (A note here: according to those who use GPS devices the SCGT marathon is really 29.7 miles (not 26.2) and the 50K is 32.7 miles (not 31.1)). In fact, the cutoff is largely ignored as long as runners are making progress. Race founder and former race director Ed S. is handing out treats from the trunk of his car and I exchange some empty gel packets for a pretzel or two.
CSX Railroad Bridge over Seneca Creek Southwest of I-270  
After finishing the loop and returning to the aid station Monika starts to pull away from me.  I pause to take a picture of the magnificent stone arch bridge carrying CSX tracks over the creek and then get to see a westbound freight train cross it as I approach.

The Bone Collector
A little bit after crossing under the bridge I spy an animal skull on the ground.  I can't resist another souvenir so I pick it it.  Now I have a skull in one hand and a tibia in the other.  I have no idea what kind of skull it is.  It appears too small to be a deer skull but is clearly some sort of mammal skull.  The teeth and lower jaw are missing so there are no clues there.  Finally I decide that it is not up to my collecting standards and leave it balance on a post for others to admire.

The Bone Swings into Action at Route 355
 There is a photographer at the aid station at Route 355, around 22 miles into the race, and that provides an excellent opportunity to clown around with the bone as these pictures indicate.

The Bone Points the Way At Route 355
 Remarkably I catch up to Monika just beyond the aid station.  We go on a bit more together but this section of the course is hilly and she runs the uphills while I walk them.

Approaching Watkins Mill Road, about mile 25, I overtake a young man walking with a little bit of a limp.  He's a Naval Academy midshipman and tells me his knee is hurting.  I ask several questions and - non-medical professional that I am - diagnose his problem as an iliotibial band problem.  He is talking about walking to the finish but I tell him that he should drop out at the next aid station, or better yet, at Watkins Mill Road where there are course marshals.  I've had the problem and tell him that it isn't going to get any better today.

Go Navy!
A little bit further along I catch up with Larry B. another member of the Absolute Zeroes.  Larry is doing the 50K, getting ready for Bull Run.  He finishes five minutes after me.

Past the aid station at Brink Road I catch up with Zach W.  He's a plebe midshipman and this is his first attempt at a marathon or longer.  He tells me that he is doing it because he hopes to join the Seals or another part of the special forces branch of the Navy upon graduation and thinks that this kind of run will help his mental training.  I describe the remaining portion of the course to him and tell him that he doesn't have to stay with me as we walk up a hill.  He replies that his strategy during the day has been to stay with experienced runners and learn from them.

 Along Magruder Branch Trail approaching the final aid station at Log House Road (?) I spot a tempting treasure on the ground - a deer hoof with fur about the ankle and about six inches of bone protruding.  It clearly had been carried there by some scavenger.  But I reluctantly decline to pick it up, even by my lax standards of hygiene there is a bit too much risk of unpleasant surprises even with temperatures barely above freezing.

After the aid station I urge Zach onward telling him how most of the rest of the course is uphill and he can run it while I plan to walk the rest of the way.  He accepts the advice on the experienced runner turned walker and goes on and soon disappears from my view.  He finishes the last 1.5 or 2 miles more than three minutes faster than me.

I finish in 7:27:50 (4/6 AG, 135/180 overall) more than a half hour faster than last year's mudfest.  Mark and Don caught up with Stephanie and as she was not proceeding well they urged Don to go ahead.  He did and finished his first 50K in 8:16.  Mark and Stephanie finish in 8:57, but are only next to DFL, as someone else finished three minutes later.

Bib and Bone - SCGT is a pick up your own swag race.