Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bull Run Run 50 Miler - April 11, 2015

By the time I remember to sign up for Bull Run Run 50 Miler entry lottery this year it had already closed.  Fortunately I am able to get on the wait list, although without the priority that being on it from having lost the lottery would have provided.  For the fourth consecutive year fewer people try to enter the race and I move quickly onto the entrants list as people withdraw.

Two weeks before the race legendary ultrarunner (and all-round universally acclaimed nice guy) Tom Green asks me to join his team in an effort to win the oldest team award. "You won't have to do anything except finish the run under 13 hours," Tom cheerily assures me.

I agree to be on the team and then find out that it consists of some of the legends of the BRR: 71 year-old Frank Probst, who has finished 22 BRRs; 68 year-old Bob Anderson with 16 BRR finishes; and 64 year-old Tom, who is the only other person besides Frank to have finished all 22 BRRs. Tom is a few months older than me, making me the baby on the team Huffin and Puffins.  And the least experienced with only six BRR finishes.  The team is a total of 267 years old, easily 30 or 40 years older than the next oldest team.  We'll win if I can finish, because I know that the other three will finish.

The last few BRRs have been a bit of a struggle for me, I've averaged 12:30 in the last three BRRs (12:34, 12:09, 12:47).  I ran some with Tom last year and had to tell him to go on as I stopped on the final hill to empty my stomach - twice.  So he knows that this is not an easy race for me.  Still, he has enough confidence in me to ask that I join this team of legends. Nevertheless, I feel pressure. I can't let the legends down.

Three of These Four Are Legends
(Pick the one that does not belong)

17-time finisher
Bob, 68
(photo by Beni Hawkins)
23-time finisher
Frank, 71
(photo by Beni Hawkins)

7-time finisher
Ken, 64
(photo by Beni Hawkins)
23-time finisher
Tom, 64
(photo by Beni Hawkins)

Little Big Data
I have aid station split times for five of my six previous Bull Runs.  I ran the 2010 and 2011 BRRs in 11:16 and 11:34 and the 2012-14 BRRs in times ranging from 12:09 to 12:47, averaging 12:30.  I figure that the last three are more representative of what I am likely to run today, so I construct a pace card based on those three performances. When I use the data to extrapolate for a column at 12:45 pace, the last two segments covering the final 10 miles, produces a 13:16 finish, well over the 13 hour cutoff.  The only thing I can do is manually increase the pace for those two segments and rename the column the 13 hour pace column.  In short, I have no room for error if I want to support the Huffin and Puffins.

Been Here Before
Mark shows up promptly at my house at 450 a.m. and we are quickly on our way for the 40 minute drive to Hemlock Overlook for the race.  We stop at Seven-Eleven to pick up a cup of tea, park in the preferred carpool area, pick up our bibs and race swag, place our drop bags in the area for them and chat with old friends.

I run into Tom Green and he tells me that he plans to start off quickly to avoid the early bottlenecks where the back of the pack has to wait for those ahead of them to clear stream crossings or rocky stretches.  (I'll only see Tom once on the course today, as he heads back from the turnaround in the bluebells while I'm still headed toward it. He finishes in 11:38, more than an hour faster than last year.)

A bugler plays a martial air, someone sings the National Anthem and the race is off at 630 a.m. with a thin cloud cover failing to hide a waning moon with moderate temperatures. 

Not too many bluebells this year.
Mark and I start off together and leapfrog a bit with Stephanie, Marshall and Mike.  Stephanie and Marshall are steady runners who can keep a pace for hours, so the fact that they are a bit behind means nothing. (Sure enough they pull away around mile 28 and finish in 11:45.)

The Tyranny of the Pace Card
I get to the first aid station at Centerville Road (mile 7.2) in 1:39, about midway between the 12:30 pace and the 12:45 (now marked 13 hour) pace. That pacing repeats itself at the turnaround in the bluebells (mile 9.4) and back at Centerville Road (mile 11.6) even though my left foot sinks eight inches (that's about two inches above the ankle) into mud at one point.  fortunately I don't lose my shoe.  It repeats at all twelve aid stations through Marina at mile 44.9. Keep it up and I'll be in good shape.  But if something goes amiss there is little margin for error.

Vegan Cheesecake and OK Cupid; or Love on the Trail 
On the return from Centerville Road to Hemlock I run with a couple.  She tells me that they met while at a previous BRR while pacing a friend.  He was running and a mutual friend introduced them, thinking that as fellow vegans and runners them might have a certain degree of compatibility, which, it turns out, they did.

I note that I have recently attended two weddings where the parties had met via match.com.  She had tried OKCupid,com but the only men she met were older and, she thought, more interested in hook-ups than serious relationships. Maybe it was a Washington area problem, she speculated, in that people were more interested in their careers than their personal life.

I mention the abomination of vegan cheesecake that was on an Easter buffet that we attended. Seriously, what is the point of omitting the cheese from the cheesecake? It's called cheesecake for a very good reason - an accurate description of what it is.  You want tofu cake? Fine, just don't mislabel it as cheesecake. I'll report you to the FDA or USDA, or whoever is responsible for proper food labeling.

She tells me that not only is vegan cheesecake tasty, but that there will be some at the post-race food.  Further she describes how it is often made with almond? walnut? flour.  I agree to try some when I finish.  Unfortunately there was none left by the time I did.

Trail Maintenance
BRR is a no sitting race.
Somewhere outbound between Marina (mile 21.1) and Wolf Run Shoals (mile 26.1) I ask a runner I catch up to, "You're Frank, correct?  Getting an affirmative answer, I introduce myself to Frank Probst and tell him that I'm the guy Tom recruited to the team.

We run along together and Frank tells me how he brought a handsaw out to the trail earlier in the year to clear a fallen tree.  He didn't want another notable BRR character, Gary Knipling, to have to lug his chainsaw that far. (Gary is also 71 and will finish his 19th BRR in 11:45 today.)  He points out the tree to me and says that it took him three hours to saw it and then he asked some passing hikers to help him roll the cut log out of the way.

Goodbye . . .
I gradually pull away from Frank.  This is a great relief to me as it means that if I can stay ahead of him, I'm pretty much assured of making the 13 hour cutoff. Furthermore, I can see Mark in the near distance.  If I can catch and keep up with him that will be another bit of assurance of finishing.
Leaving Fountainhead AS and heading into the White Loop I steadily gain on him.  The loquacious Mark is chatting with another runner and as they hook around one of the switchbacks I warn the other fellow, "Be careful, he's paid by the word!"

Spiderman, me and Batman in the Do Loop.
One of these three is not a superhero.
(Photo by Mark Zimmermann)
Shortly thereafter I catch up to them and the three of us trot on through the loop, cross the park road, pass the signs warning of the archery range to the right, go up and down some more of the course's never ending hills and reach the Do Loop AS. Mark has been hankering for a green ice pop there, but all they have are multi-colored ones.  He gets one but I get distracted by refilling my water bottle and getting some watermelon and leave without one.

After running the relatively short - and inevitable up-and-down - path to the loop proper, we get to enjoy the wide, smooth, gradual downhill that takes us to where we have views of the boathouse on the Occoquan and the many boats on the water for a crew regatta. Entering the Do Loop proper provides a psychological boost because it means that one will no longer see runners headed in-bound while you are still headed outbound.

Then it is back to up-and-downs for the return to the Do Loop AS.  Mark mentions that he is feeling a bit tired from his 75-mile effort two weeks earlier at the Umstead 100 (cut short by blisters). We are joined by Mike E. who finished Umstead in a nice sub-24 hour performance.  Mike's back is bothering him a bit. I mention that I'm feeling a bit light-headed or otherwise not quite right but that it feels better when running than walking.

Leave the Weak for the Hyenas
Back at the Do Loop I remember to get an ice pop for the return.  I look around for Mark and don't see him.  Seeing me searching, the runner we had been with in the White Loop says, "Your friend is up ahead,  He took off.  He said something about being concerned that you might not be feeling that you could finish."  I look down the trail and can see Mark, but he is well along. It is the last I will see of him until the finish. (He later apologizes for going off with an adieu, explaining that he was simply trying to not lose too much time in aid stations.  He also buys me a hot dog and drink at Seven Eleven on the way home.)

I feel a bit like the weak and elderly in the herds of antelope in Africa.  If you can't stay with the herd you get left behind.  Without the strength of the herd you are easy pickings for the predators that lurk to pick-off the defenseless, solitary creature on the long journey.

But at least I'm still ahead of Frank!  So long as I can do that I'm safe.

. . . and Hello and Goodbye
At the Fountainhead AS I replenish my supply of Succeed salt tablets.  I've been careful to take a Succeed and a gel every hour to ward off dehydration.  To keep from getting overheated I've been wetting my handkerchief at the aid stations and wiping my face and arms with the cold water.  A sudden insight has me dunk my buff in the cold water and put it on my neck and pull it over my head.  It may look a bit strange but it provides cold water to my head and neck as well as some water running down my chest.  The cooling feels good.

Headed up the long hill back to the Wolf Run AS I'm greeted by an overtaking runner.  It's Frank! He tells me that he started to feel much better in the Do Loop.  That's obvious as he strides past me, restocks at the aid station and steadily pulls away.

I'm back to being on my own again.  The only question is whether the hyenas and lions lie in wait over the last ten miles. In prior years they often have.

Intel is Important
As Frank disappears into the distance (at the age of 71, he'll finish in 12:21, 34 minutes faster than last year) I leave the superhero-themed Wolf Run Shoals AS (mile 39.9) in the company of two other runners.  Ray lives in Manassas and frequently runs this portion of the trail.  He provides valuable information about how far it is to the Marina AS (mile 44.9) based on the trail's mile posts.

And then he let's us in on a secret: the miles are "compressed," that is they are less than a mile apart. This is psychologically encouraging in that it means we don't have to run as far as we have been led to believe, but it is also irrelevant. Time is what matters, not distance, and the cutoffs and the pace card, the damn pace card, measurer of how long it takes to travel from one fixed point to another, regardless of the absolute meters, miles, kilometers or yards between them, has taken distance into account and transformed it into time. The cutoff of 11:30 at Marina and 13:00 at the finish means that there is 90 minutes between them, not 5.5 miles as the official distance says or 5.09 miles as Ray says. The time matters, not the distance.

To the End
In recent years I have never been able to run between the final aid station at Marina and the finish in less than 90 minutes.  So beating the 11:30 cutoff at Marina will not be enough to finish in under 13 hours.  Get there in 11:15 is cutting it close but is doable.  Faster is better.

I get to Marina in 10:54.  It's a huge relief.  More than two hours remain and that means I can walk it in if  need be.  I do walk a fair amount with Ray but finally decide to push on a bit.  I'm doing fine, I try to be careful on the rocky stretches. But crossing a small rocky stream my left foot slips and goes into the water and as I try to step out and over a large flat rock my left shin scrapes against it, I loose my balance, my left knee bangs down and I tumble to the ground winding up on my back. No great harm: a sore right palm, a superficially bloody left knee and a few inches of scraped left shin, with a bit of dirt for a dressing.

Another mile or so then up the final hill toward Hemlock.  I go slowly, not wanting to trigger muscle memory (or more accurately, stomach memory) of the times and places I've vomited here in BRRs gone by.  And I succeed.  Walk a bit more, than run to the finish where I cross the line in 12:30, having made up nine minutes on the pace card.

Tom and I with the Team Champion blankets.
(Photo by Caroline Williams)
I'm the last of the Huffin and Puffins to finish, but I've fulfilled my obligation to get to the finish with the other legends. Tom is at the finish to greet me.  We are announced as the oldest team (but not the slowest!) and Tom and I collect the blankets for ourselves, Frank and Bob. It is the third time I've been on a winning team - twice for slowest team and now for oldest. Tom tells me, "You're now officially old and slow!"

Swag: Bag, Buff, Hat and Bib
atop a BRR Team Champion Blanket

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Runners Marathon of Reston - March 29, 2015

Free Marathon!
Who could resist such an offer? OK, lots of people but not me, even if it is a week after running a 50K.  Following the truncation of the George Washington Birthday Marathon, the DC Road Runners work a deal with the Reston Runners to allow GWBM runners to run for free in the Runners Marathon of Reston on March 29, 2015.

We get no race premiums and are not eligible for prizes. We run with GWBM bibs, our times are recorded separately and we are awarded GWBM finishers medals instead of Runners Marathon medals. Persons signed up for both races are awarded both medals.  Twenty-two of us take up the offer.

The race is a low-key, early spring, suburban marathon located in the planned community on Reston, Virginia.  The course is two loops of a mixture of about 60 percent roads and 40 percent paved hiker-biker trails largely through neighborhoods of single family houses, town houses, garden apartments and secondary roads with some shopping centers, office buildings and churches.  The scenery is nothing special but not unattractive.  The course has some gentle rolls bun no lung-burners; the difference between the high and low spots on the course is only 164 feet and the two points are nearly seven miles course miles apart

There is also a half marathon that starts with the marathoners. At the end of the day there will be 130 Runners marathon, 22 GWBM and 282 half marathon finishers.  With the half marathoners gone after the first loop there is plenty of space for the marathoners to spread out.  Aid stations every couple of miles are well maintained by volunteers and plenty of course marshals and police provide protection at intersections.  With only 430 runners in the events crowds are not surprisingly sparse.

22 degrees at the start. GWBM shirt.
It's a workman-like day. Nothing particularly special: just show up, book the miles, finish.  A day better described in vignettes that a narrative.

Lyrics Can be Hard to Remember
The start line is about a two minute walk from South Lakes High School where packet pickup and the post-race meal is located.  Someone who is going to run the race is introduced as the singer of the National Anthem.  He goes along nicely until he gets to "O'er the ramparts we watch'd" and then he stops. There is an awkward moment of silence before he picks up again.  To help him along the crowd joins in to sing the rest of the Anthem.

Bad Joke #1
"Nice job!" the volunteer offers as I run pass.

"If it were really a nice job," I reply, "I'd have the weekend off and be getting paid for it."

How Cold Was It?
It was so cold  . . .
. . . that the Gatorade at one of the early aid stations was slushy.
. . . that when I stopped to use a Porta-Potty around mile 11 the stream of urine steamed.
. . . that I didn't take off my outer shirt until mile 25.

Any Sox is Better Than No Sox #1
"Interesting arm warmers," I offer.

"They are my husband's socks," she replies, "Well, they were."

She is wearing white athletic socks as hand and arm warmers, but her fingers are free, as she has cut off the toe enclosure.  A couple of hours later, just after starting the second loop, I spot one on the ground, and a little further along, the other, forlorn-looking with their unravelling ends where toes once kept warm.

Bad Joke #2
A spectator holds up a sign proclaiming "This is a No Walken Zone" with a picture of Oscar-winning actor Christopher Walken on it.

"Nice humor," I offer, then pause. "But don't quit your day job."

Play That Funky Music, Incredibles
Headed up the hill toward the aid station short of mile 24, the 1970s hit from Wild Cherry, Play That Funky Music is booming. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible are there, too, on either side of the path.  I stop in front of them and bust out my finest dance moves, maybe even better than those I did at Potomac Heritage 50K for which I earned a 25 minute bonus.

The Incredibles applaud and then high-five me while I head out.

Running Happy!
(Photo by Brian Kent Photography)
Any Sox is Better Than No Sox #2
I come alongside a women running in minimalist sandals. Her heels are bare but the front of her feet are in pink that match her Marathon Maniacs shirt.

I inquire if she isn't cold.  Her friend answers that the woman often runs barefoot.

"Too cold for that today," the woman says. "But I forgot my toe socks so I have had to put my gloves on my feet."  

A second look confirms that the fingers of the gloves extend beyond the front of the sandals. The two gradually pull away from me but I catch up with them around mile 25, where the toe gloves are still in place .

What's Your Name?
"What year did you run Wineglass Marathon?" I ask the orange-shirted runner ahead of me. We chat a bit and then he introduces himself. "I'm Dave," he says. 

"Ken," I reply.

"I probably won't remember your name by the time we get to the next corner," he says, "I'm awful on names."

"No problem, Charley," I quip, "I've got the same problem."

"Wow!" he exclaims, "We share the same name!"

Dave has not only run the Wineglass Marathon, but he is from Corning and is on the race committee. "I'm the only one on the committee who runs the race," he tells me.  We share tales of running Finger Lakes 50s and Monster Marathon.  I tell of my preference for trail running and he tells how he has given up trails as his ankles give he problems with stability.

Macon Time
In the first couple of miles I run awhile with a fellow from Macon, Georgia.  He's wearing a Marathon Maniacs shirt (there were a lot of them out there).  He's taking his time and I gradually pull away from him. There is a little out-and back section of the course at mile 7 and we exchange greetings as we pass in opposite directions; him outward bound and me on my way back. We do it again on the second loop, now about mile 20.

Well beyond mile 24 he goes booking past me. "I gotta be headed back to Georgia," he says, as he goes on to finish 90 seconds ahead of me after being about 7 minutes behind at the half.

The Details
I finish in 4:33:56 with half marathon splits of 2:10 and 2:23.  I'm 11/13 males and 13 of 22 GWBM runners.  Had I been in the Runners Marathon of Reston I would have won my age group. Had I been in the next oldest age group I would not have even placed.
George Washington Birthday Marathon Swag at the Reston Marathon: A bib and a medal.