Tuesday, June 24, 2014

TNF Endurance Challenge Washington 50M - June 7, 2014

Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
- The Bug, Mary Chapin Carpenter

I spent weeks dreading the TNF Endurance Challenge Washington 50 Miler.  I had done the TNF 50K in 2012 and 2013 so I knew the course and knew how the weather could be hot and humid, the course as muddy as a swamp, poison ivy lurking by the side of the trail, three loops in Great Falls, and some long stretches between aid stations.  Oh, and it started at 5 a.m.

But Jennifer said that we it was a good training run for Black Hills 100K three weeks later so I dutifully signed up.  But I would have been happy doing the 50K.  My bare bones training therom is that if you can do half the distance, you can do the whole distance.  And since I had already suffered through Bull Run Run 50 Miler and wasn't feeling the need for another day of agony.

But Jennifer had had to withdraw from BRR because of an injury and I also knew that she was right - we both needed another long run to prepare for Black Hills.  And the hills and heat could help us acclimate to what what we have coming on June 28.

Dawn rises thru the mist
Jennifer picks me up at 4 a.m. and we get to Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling,VA with just enough time to hand in our drop bags and be ready for the 5 a.m. start.  The eastern sky is beginning to lighten but it is just dark enough to require head or hand lights for the first 15 or 20 minutes of the race. As a result we carry our lamps for the next three hours until we reach our drop bags at Great Falls.  Starting the race 15 or 30 minutes later would eliminate the need for lights.
The 15 miles to Great Falls is reasonably uneventful.  There is a bit of mud in some stretches, a stream crossing where the alternative is to try to shimmy along a fallen tree with the aid of a rope and some somewhat slippery descents.

Jennifer moving along outbound
I entertain Jennifer with a comprehensive description of our recent roadtrip through the South on the way to a wedding in New Orleans - Knoxville and Mobile outbound, Memphis, Nashville and Kentucky homeward bound.  Perhaps entertain is not the proper verb; subject might be more appropriate.  At one point while discussing the proper way to make a Pimms Cup a English runner joins our discussion.

I discuss my recent attendance at the Montana State Society's Tenth Annual Testicle Festival, Nuttin' Better, featuring "all the Rocky Mountain Oysters, beer, Crown Royal and live country music you can handle." Unfortunately the line for the delicacy is long and I only had one helping.  Fortunately, the line for the Crown Royal did not suffer the same drawback.

Jennifer tells how on the South Dakota farm on which she grew up they simply tossed the bull testicles to the waiting farm dogs who devoured them without needing them sliced, breaded and fried.

After my problems at the BRR 50 miler in April I'm paying close attention to hydration.  I'm wearing my Nathan hydration pack and being vigilant to take a Succeed and a gel every hour.  It is a routine that I maintain throughout the day.  And since the aid stations are stacked with gels keeping supplied with them is easy.

Loopy in Great Falls  
Upon entering Great Falls we access our drop bags.  We will be back to them three more times, once at the end of each 6.9 loop in the park before we head back toward Algonkian.  Since there is an additional aid station in the park, I trade the Nathan for a handheld bottle as the backpack is hot.  I also change into one of the two shirts I've put in the bag.

Posing on the trail in Great Falls
Describing the Great Falls section as a loop is an oversimplification.  It has three separate out and back tendrils, as well as a figure eight in the middle of the three tendrils.  While it sounds complicated it is well marked and course marshaled and confusion is at a minimum.  While a bit hilly, the park's paths are wide and sharing them with hikers and park visitors is not a problem.

Jennifer takes a tumble in the park, landing on her right shoulder.  She acquires some dirt but does not break the skin.  But she picks up a slight pull or strain in her right leg, and that bothers her the remainder of the day.

Returning to the drop bags at the end of the first loop, I change to the second shirt and leave the other shirt hanging out of the bag to dry.

The second loop is uneventful, but the day is starting to warm a bit, and we are a bit slower than on the first loop.

On the third loop a runner coming from the opposite direction on one of the out and backs points out a three foot long snake crossing the path. Runners in both directions stop to allow the creature to cross.  Jennifer identifies it as a rat snake.

 Back to the drop bags at the end of the third loop I put on the now-dry shirt from the first loop.  I think about donning the camelback for the return as the distance to the next aid station is nearly five miles and I'm concerned about running out of water before getting there.  I decide that the risk is outweighed by the additional sweating from wearing it and I elect to stick with the handheld.

The Potomac under a pretty sky later in the day
As we head out of Great Falls on the return leg, I'm feeling pretty good. In fact, I'm fairly giddy experiencing an absurd runner's high. My mind knows that we still have nearly 15 miles to go, but the spirit is energized and I'm enjoying it.

Jennifer, on the other hand, isn't feeling 100 percent.  Her tumble has bothered her leg and she is battling a bit of a cold that is sapping her strength.  Furthermore, she may be getting a bit dehydrated. I give her a Succeed and the salt helps her retain water and rehydrate. (To non-runners this may sound counter-intuitive, but it is sound science and avoids developing potentially deadly hyponatremia.) While she generally prefers that I lead on the single track sections (let the slow guy set the pace) we switch places so that she doesn't have to over-exert herself in case I try to pick up the pace in my elated state.

Not only does this strategy work well, but she has enough energy that we slowly and relentlessly pass other runners ahead of us.

We leapfrog with one runner who missed a turn early in the race and ran two extra miles because of his mistake.  As we loop around a field I suggest that he can take a shortcut across it because of his extra miles but he makes the appropriate choice and stays on the course.

Sure enough, my water bottle approaches empty with still a ways to go to the Carwood aid station at mile 41. Fortunately the weather, while warm, hasn't gotten too hot and I am able to nurse it along to the aid station.

Jennifer has pretty much used up her reserves by now.  We do a fair amount of walking.  At the stream crossing she stands in the cool water and uses the small cloth she carries to sponge off a bit.

I continue to have a good day.  Even the last hill we climb isn't a problem.  The combination of sticking with the schedule of Succeeds and gels, combined with somewhat lower temperatures than at BRR and a less hilly course have combined for a nice day of running.
We get to Sugarland, the final aid station at mile 47, and I check my pace card. We are still under a 12-hour finishing pace, but Jennifer is running now on fumes and we walk more and more.  But finally the finish line approaches and we run in the last quarter mile, finishing in 12:10:40.

The post-race food perks us up and we are soon heading home so that Jennifer can get to Strathmore Music Center for a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Turns out to have been a windshield day.

Swag: Shirt, socks, medal and bib
Age Group Winner
After we finish we claim our shirts and I go to the headquarters tent to inquire about my age group.  Having looked over the list of registered runners I am pretty confident that I know the outcome, and the race official confirms that I have one my age group.  While she doesn't say it, I'm also last in the age group, because I'm the only one in it.  Had there been a prize for oldest finisher I would have won that as well, but there isn't.  

When I get home I promptly list the Handheld Hydrator for sale on eBay - as with much running paraphernalia, I already have two.
Age Group Winner's Prize: TNF Handheld Hydrator,
two gels and a free shipping coupon