Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K - November 15, 2015

I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can
- Rev. Charles S. Wing, The Little Engine That Could
RD Tom gives the pre-race brief  ("follow the white ribbons")

I spend the week prior to the Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K lurking about the list of registrants trying to see how many are in my age group and what their expected times are.  Besides me there are three other registrants.  One I know and am confident that I can beat.  The other two are unfamiliar to me but based on their times in other races I feel pretty confident that I can best them.  The great unknown is whether someone shows up and registers on race day.

As I did in 2012, I develop a plan for running the race. It's a simple plan for the three-loop race: run each loop only about five to ten minutes slower than the previous loop. Ideally, my plan is 2:00, 2:05, and 2:10 loops for a 6:15 finish. With an aid station about midway of the loop it is easy to keep track of progress - an hour between aid stations is the rough measuring stick.

Jeanne performs the National Anthem.
( Photo by Jon Valentine)
Let's Go!
Gayatri, me and Barry stay warm at the start.
The forecast promises near perfect running weather - sunny, upper 30s to near 40 at the start, rising to 50 or low 50s' midway, but with a bit of wind. I leave the house at 0630, pick up Gayatri from her house a minute later and gather up Barry by 0645. By 0730 we are at Rosaryville State Park, pick up our bibs, hand over our drop bags, chat with people we know and move the start line with the total of 134 starters.

Barry leads early.
Fresh from performing before a Friday night sold-out house in The Music Man, Jeanne sings the National Anthem and we are off.  It's about a mile on the asphalt park road before turning into the woods onto the mostly single track of gently rolling terrain,  I follow Barry for a couple of miles while I warm up, but after shedding the outer of my two shirts and removing my gloves, I go past him and a number of other runners.  I settle into a pace that feels a bit quick but not too strenuous.

Army Strong, or, An Army of One I
During the first loop I run awhile with Chris, a U.S. Army infantryman.  He is running the race at the urging of his mother, who is also running.

He tells me he is used to 12 mile hikes carrying his 40-50 pound rucksack but that he has never run an ultra before.  In fact, he has not run a marathon, or a half marathon, or a 10-miler, 10K, 5K or any race at all.  He does admit to running two miles as part of his Army physical qualifications.  And, he adds, he hasn't done any training for today's race. Also, He is a pack and a half a day smoker.

Running with pace on loop 1
( Photo by Jon Valentine)
He is wearing a pair of Adidas that he bought the night before.  His mother got them for him when she found out that he had planned to run in a pair of $15 plastic-soled shoes from Walmart.

He is, I think to myself, the perfect specimen to test my "Training is Bunk" motto.

I tell him that I'm running a fly-and-die pace, but that if he can execute my plan without suffering fly-and-die he will finish in about 6:15. But, I warn, running fly-and-die means that the last part of the race can get ugly.  He understands and takes off.

Man Down - Hard!
About a half mile from the midway aid station during the second loop I trip and fall on my right side. Usually I manage to tuck and roll on my trail falls, but this time I go down hard on ground that is hard packed and unyielding.  I lay there and assess the damage. My right wrist is sore but I have full, if painful motion. A small spot of blood oozes through my tights over my right knee.  My right hip has a small sore spot, probably from landing on a small pill box I carry in my right pocket.  But most painful are my right ribs.  They are quite sore.  I recall that a couple of years ago Sam fell out here and cracked a rib.  Tentatively I take a deep breath and there is no sharp pain, just soreness.

Getting to my feet I start walking. The thought of dropping at the aid station enters my mind. I try running.  The wrist and ribs are sore but I can run. I determine that I can go on, but try to stay extra vigilant for rocks, roots and other things that might trip me up.  I spend a lot of time contemplating how close I came to a serious injury.  Maybe spreading the pain was just enough to dissipate the force away from the critical energy necessary to have done serious damage to wrist or rib.

(Rosaryville claims two runners with significant injuries, both ankle injuries, including an alvusion fracture. Eight other runners also DNF.)

The Zen of Running Alone, or, Where Am I?
The 10- and 20-mile aid station at the start of the loop.
With only 134 runners spread out over a ten-mile loop one often spends time running alone, or at best, in the company of one or two other runners.  If one clears one's mind of the past and the future than one can consider that he is leading all other runners, or is trailing all other runners.  With no awareness of others, one can be first, or last, or both.

Once the field thins out during a trail race, usually during the first three to five miles, there is not a lot of passing. People get running to their pace, with the faster runners ahead and the field stretched out behind them based on their pace.  Run 15 seconds a mile faster than someone for ten miles and you have a two and a half minute lead.  If they then can run 10 seconds a mile faster than you - a huge 25 second per mile swing in relative pace -  it will still take them another 15 miles to catch you.

The midway aid station
(Photo by Jon Valentine)
Both of these threads come together and stay with me throughout the day.  Somewhere on the course are the others in my age group, but with the exception of Barry, I don't know whether they are ahead of me or behind me.  If they are ahead it is unlikely that I will catch them and if they are behind, it is equally unlikely that they will catch me. I am where I am, running at the pace I'm running. The mantra: Relentless Forward Progress. Thru the first loop in 1:59. Then the second in 2:11. Two loop: 4:10. Right on plan with one loop to go.

Fueling with Liquid Complex Carbohydrates - A Fictional Tale
[Rosaryville State Park does not allow alcoholic beverages without a permit. Legal disclaimer: This section is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.]
About a mile into the third loop I once again come upon one of the course marshals sitting in the canvas chair she has been using at this location throughout the day.  In her chair's cupholder is a familiarly shaped bottle wrapped in a Maryland-themed cozy.

Fictional course marshal holding
a fictional bottle at a fictional race 
at a fictional location.
"Is that a [four letter word for an adult beverage]?," I inquire.

"Yes," she replies, "Would you like one?"

I resist the urge to say something about bears in the woods. "Yes, thank you," I reply.

She hands me a bottle of carbonated liquid complex carbohydrates.  The cold amber liquid is refreshing. I stand by the side of the trail hydrating while another runner passes.  About two-thirds of the way through the 12 ounces of  golden aid I decide that prudence calls for not carrying the entire contents in my stomach the last nine miles, no matter how "Light" it may be.  Regretfully I empty the rest of the bottle on the ground.  The next few miles are pain-free. And if there is any weaving, well, that is because the trail meanders, not I.

Epilogue: After the race the course marshal give me a ride to my car from the finish area.  She introduces me to another of her "Bud-dies," who accompanies me back to the finish area to await Barry and Gayatri. This time nothing gets poured on the ground.

Share the Trail
Sharing the trail with equestrians.
The Rosaryville trail had been built by mountain bikers and as the day goes on, there are a number of them to be seen.  The bikers are invariably polite, pulling to the side for runners and offering encouragement. Some are going counterclockwise as are the runners, but some are going clockwise, so it is an opportunity to see them again a little later.

The trail is also used by equestrians. In his pre-race brief RD Tom alerts us that there are horse groups out today and they have flagged parts of the course, as well as other park trails, with other color ribbons than the white ribbons we are to follow. Sure enough we came upon a pretty fair number of riders, including a group of five from the Melwood Equestrian Program. As bikers yield to runners, runners yield to horses, and I'd stand quietly by the side while the horses went by.

Army Strong, or, An Army of One II
Is this an old aid station?
Before the midway aid station on the final loop (about mile 25) I catch up with Chris.  He's moving along OK, but his knees are starting to ache, his thighs are getting a bit sore, and he admits to hot spots on both feet.

We fall in, with him allowing me to set the pace.  I mostly run the downhills and flats and walk the uphills of the rolling course.  Even though I tell him, maybe even urge him, to go on, he insists that the pace is fine and he stays with me. And maybe that is right because when I stop to take a picture, I am able to hurry along to catch up to him.  He says that he may speed up as we get closer to the finish.

We get to the midway aid station in 1:09 since I entered the final loop, elapsed time of 5:19 from the start.

Another abandoned aid station?
We chat as we go along, and he tells me about his career and family plans.  He has just reenlisted for his second tour of duty and he lays out for me what he plans to do for the rest of his life. Since what's said on the trail stays on the trail the only thing I'll say is that at some point his plans and dreams involve a 67-foot sailboat.

This last stretch seems to go on forever. While the course makes more turns than the small intestine, the turns seem further apart and turns that I mistakenly remember as being closer to the end of the loop are not.

Five fingers for five Rosaryville finishes
( Photo by Jon Valentine)
With a couple of miles to go we come upon a runner who is walking and experiencing some cramping.  Chris goes on. After supplying the runner with an electrolyte capsule I look ahead for Chris and he is out of sight. Gone. Vanished.  He has put the hammer down and finishes 8 minutes ahead of me.

But that is yet to come.  Glances at my watch tell me that my time isn't going to be anywhere near 6:30. Out of the loop and onto the park road for the last mile back to the start finish, I glance behind me to see if anyone is coming.  No one is, so I walk. And walk. With a couple of hundred yards to go, and most of it downhill, I finally run and cross the finish in 6:41:59.  It take me a leisurely 1:22 to run from the last aid station to the finish.

I Thought I Could
And now to find the answer to the Zen question. I approach RD Richard who is working away on his tablet.  He shoos me away for a few minutes so he can concentrate on what he is doing. I wander away, change clothes and return.  He tells me that no one in my age group has yet finished - that's another Zen moment, or maybe I'm Schrodinger's cat. He checks with the timers, since he only gets results in batches and hadn't received the batch with my finish, and confirms that I am the age group winner. I'm awarded the winner's seat cover towel and proudly pose for my photo.

First in age group (60-69) of three runners and one DNS. Of males 57 of 67. Overall, 79 of 124.  My fifth, and slowest (by 31 seconds) Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K. But the second time I've won my AG.

Barry and Gaytri both finish after a bit.  We head off to Bojangles for nourishment before the drive home.
Happy with Medal and Age Group Auto Seat Towel Premium
( Photo by Jon Valentine)
Swag: hat, medal, bib and AG car seat towel.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Marine Corps Marathon - October 25, 2015

Sometimes you're the windshield / Sometimes you're the bug
- Mark Knopfler, The Bug

Cinco Amigos V
Once again we've put the team back together for the 40th Marine Corps Marathon.  Barry, Emaad, Rebecca, Jennifer and I are prepared, as the MCM exhortation reminds us, "to charge the District, beat the bridge and TAKE THE IWO!"

We register in the Masters team category as Cinco Amigos V, as it is the fifth year we will be carpooling and running MCM together.  Only the top three finishers count in the team scoring, but we are allowed to have five on the team.  We expect another last place finish.

Sometimes You're the Bug I
Unexpectedly the casualties begin early.  Jennifer complains of plantar fasciitis in her foot. It's a sudden onset as she and I had been doing long runs in September in preparation for October marathons. She tries stretching and a short run but the pain persists.  As she plans to go to Seattle the week following MCM and do hiking and walking out there,she wisely decides not to risk aggravating the foot by attempting MCM.

Sometimes You're the Bug II
Rebecca is the next one down.  A couple of weeks before MCM she develops a fever and her knees swell up so much that she needs to have one drained and use a crutch for several days.  Tests for various illnesses - tick-borne and otherwise - come back negative but the illness saps her strength and she decides not to run.  She feels well enough however to come out and support the efforts of the remaining three Amigos.

Soft Targets
With me at the wheel, Emaad, Barry and I have no difficulty in getting to the MCRRC hospitality suite in Rosslyn.  At the appropriate time we head out for the mile walk to the start, which takes us past the Iwo Jima Memorial.  But shortly before turning left from N. Meade Street to walk down N. Marshall Drive toward Route 110 and the start, the crowd of runners comes to a halt. People begin to get antsy about getting to the starting line on time as there seems to be no reason for the delay.

New this year, however, about half a dozen metal detectors have been set up to screen everyone walking in that direction.  In year's past, there has been bag screening, but runners have been able to by-pass the bag checks since they are not carrying bags. With a handful of metal detectors, perhaps balky in the damp, misty conditions, the crowds have come to a packed standstill trapped with metal detector lines to the front, an armored police vehicle to the right, a fence and earthen berm to the right, and more runners to the rear.

Security has created not only a perfect mess of disrupting the smooth progression of runners to the start but have created what would be an ideal situation for a terrorist: a densely packed crowd in an area conducive to concentrating an explosion. A terrorist might not be able to get beyond the metal detectors, but would have no need to - security has neatly penned up hundreds of potential victims just outside the perimeter.

Finally a Marine takes control of the situation and orders runners without packs to move to the right and bypass the metal detectors.  The crowd quickly moves past the unnecessary (and unsecure) bottleneck.

Other locations lacked a take-charge Marine.  Long lines at other entry points resulted in hundreds of runners getting to the start line more than a half hour after the start. The race director extended the "beat the bridge cutoff time and kept the finish line open an additional 30 minutes to accommodate those runners.

Walking up Route 110 toward the start, a pair of Ospreys thunder overhead in helicopter orientation, then fly back in airplane orientation.  We get out of the road as the wheelchair racers start and come toward us.

Trying to get to the proper side of the start line.
We get beyond the howitzer that is fired to begin the race just before Marines stop the stream of runners trying to get to the far side of the start arches.  We walk past the corrals for the elite and other fast runners and duck into the starting area.  The howitzer fires, we allow a stream of faster runners to go by and seven minutes after the start gun, we cross the mat to begin the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon.

Got A Plan
Barry falls back while Emaad and I set out with a plan. While we both had somewhat disappointing results at the Wineglass Marathon three weeks previous, we figure that if we can run the first half in 2:10 we can go under 4:30 today. Both of us have run MCM the past four years in under 4:30, so our goal is fairly modest - about a 10:17 per mile pace overall.

We take the first few miles easy.  At the downhill at Spout Run (mile 3) we try to pick up the pace a bit.  A pushrim racer is trying to get through the dense crowd but people are slow to move out of his way.  In my best imitation of a Marine DI I start screaming, "Clear the center! NOW! Clear the center!" I come alongside one woman with ear buds oblivious to the request. I resist the urge to rip them out of her ear and simply yell at her.  (There are more than 23,000 persons running today and tens of thousands of spectators and by running with headphones she might as well have run alone.) The crowd parts for him, he gives me a thanks, and gets to go on and take advantage of the downhill.
In the sprint to help clear the path, I lose Emaad. I won't see him until back at the hospitality suite. Based on our splits, he passes me somewhere around mile 7. I pass him around mile 20. Neither of us sees the other. Given the way the day turns out, that might have been best for both of us.

Sometimes You're the Bug III
Emaad was beginning to develop a cold or other respiratory problem in the days before MCM. Today he pays the bill.  While getting through the first half in 2:15, he so runs out of energy in the second half, staggering through the second half in 2:59. He walks the last several miles. On the plus side, it is his ninth MCM finish even if his slowest since 2005.

Time for Plan B, or Maybe Plan C
I make decent progress for the first quarter of the race, getting through the first 10K in a 10:17 pace. In fact, for the second 5K, I've dropped the pace to just under 10 minutes per mile. The next 5K is a bit slower, but that includes the crowded out and back part of the course in Rock Creek.  Then it is past the Kennedy Center at mile 10 to begin the long straight flat to the halfway mark at Hains Point.

Beginning of the Blue Mile
A mile to remember them.
Mile 12 is the always poignant Blue Mile, lined with the images of those who have died for their county in its past twelve years of war in the Middle East.

My pace isn't what I want it to be. I'm running with the effort I want to be at, but the pace is dropping into the upper 10:20s.  It is too soon to be slowing down, but I am.

I reach the half in 2:16.  I know that 4:30 is out of the question.  By the time mile 14 passes in a slow and labored 10:39, I realize that it is time for Plan B.  I try to ascertain whether I can finish in 4:40. That will depend on how the teen miles go.

And they don't go well.  My pace per mile drops from the upper 10s to the mid to upper 11s.  I'm not suffering any pains. I'm just spent.  While I'm usually a pretty chatty runner, I don't feel the urge today.  My last real conversation was around mile 4 with a bunch of Australian runners who I teased should be watching the Wallabies playing Argentina in the semifinals of the rugby World Cup rather than running a marathon.  They assure me that they will be done in time to see it, and anyway, they are confident to advance to the finals, where the All Blacks of New Zealand await the winner. (Their confidence is justified as Australia easily beats the Pumas 29-15. The next week, however, the all-powerful All Blacks summarily dismiss their down-under rivals 34-17 to win the Cup.)

By mile 20 - proverbially where the marathon 10K starts following the 20-mile warm-up, I'm just hanging on.  I'll run mile 20 in 11:35, which shockingly will be my best mile split for the last eleven miles of the race.

It's not that I'm doing a great deal of walking at this point.  I'm only walking one minute at the beginning of each mile.  But I have little strength or energy, even as I drink Gatorade, take salt tablets and consume gels. I'm just trudging along.

Crossing the 14th bridge my goal now is to get to the finish in under five hours. As I tell a first-time runner who asks about the remainder of the course, the course on the bridge is a surprising  mile and a half long.  A police boat and a Coast Guard boat patrol the Potomac below.

Once over the bridge only five miles remain. I look forward to getting a taste of beer from the Hash House Harriers in Crystal City, but I miss them.  At each mile marker I do mental arithmetic to determine what pace I need to maintain to finish under five hours.  Depressingly, it continues to hover in the low 13 minutes per mile, a pace I am just running ahead of.

Not looking great at the finish.
Food offerings of donut holes at mile 24 have no appeal and I trudge (there's that description again) onward.  At mile 25 I weigh the time lost for a visit to a portapotty, against the likelihood of making it to the finish and decide the stop is prudent.

Finally to the turn to the finish, I can't even run up the final part of the hill to the Memorial, but I manage to run the last, mostly flat, 150 yards to the finish and cross the line in 4:56:06.

Past the finish I lean on a railing to recover.  I walk to help banish some lightheadedness, get in line for me medal, accept the salute from the Marine lieutenant bestowing the finishers' medals and find my way out and back to the hospitality suite.

Barry has a workmanlike finish.  Rebecca meets him on the Mall around mile 17.5 and paces him about five miles to Crystal City.  She was there when I ran by, but I missed seeing her.  It was that kind of day.

Sometimes You're the Bug IV
This was not one of my finer performances.  Half splits of 2:16 / 2:40 contribute to an overall pace of 11:17/mile, more than a minute per mile slower than last year.  It is the second slowest of my MCM finishes. Places were AG 160/430; Males 7812/12
774 and overall 12456/23186.

On the plus side, it was my tenth MCM finish.

The team Cinco Amigos V finishes like expected: last (11/11) in the Masters category and was the slowest of all 37 teams in all categories.  There is no award for being DFL, be we award ourselves the Lanterne Rouge.

Swag: Shirt, patch, medal, bib, program, box of snacks
(All ruby for the MCM 40th Anniversary)