Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K - November 12, 2016

Return to Rosaryville
Jennifer promptly shows up at my door, we toss our bags in my car, go up the block and pick up Gayatri and are quickly on the road for the 45 minute drive to Rosaryville State Park for the Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K.

About ten minutes before we arrive my phone rings.  It's Sara. She's lost somewhere in Upper Marlboro.  After some back-and-forth to figure out where she is, we are able to give her directions to the park.

As I park the car Sara pulls in behind and Don parks next to me. The gang is all here.

Round and Round
Race-specific course tape!
Rosaryville is a nice three-loop course with a minimum of hills and technical terrain. Runners share the course with horseback riders (none today) and mountain bikers. The course is well marked with paper pie plates and ribbon. This year's ribbon is an innovation, marked specifically for the race.  No need to remember whether to follow pink, blue, green. Just have to remember the name of the race you are in.

We start out together but in a few miles Don has pulled away.  He told us that he only planned to do two loops because he thought that three would be boring.

In the first loop with Sara behind
(photo by Jon Valentine)
Jennifer and Gayatri drop back and Sara and I go on together. Our discussions are wide-ranging, from the elastic ankle braces she bought to try out rather than buy another pair of the two she already owns to some topics that she warns me not to put in this report.

We run easily, not pushing it and taking our time at the aid stations.  There is one about midway around the loop and a second at the start of the loop. Near the end of the first loop I fall, but it is a soft landing on an embankment to my right and no harm is done. We finish the loop in 2:13.

At the aid station at the start of the loop (there is about a three-quarter mile stub from the start and finish) we have drop bags and I shed some extra clothing. Sara adjusts her ankle braces and disposes of a layer as well.

Sara pays homage at the trail-side shrine 
The second loop goes well enough. Sara takes a couple of falls, but nothing serious. We don't rush and enjoy the fine day and the golden color from the leaves.

As we approach the end of the loop I try to convince Sara to go on and run the third loop. She is unswayed and sticks to her plan to call it a day after two.  We finish the second loop in 2:20 and I bid her good-bye as she is headed home to Phoenix in a couple of days and I won't see her before she leaves.

Sara points me to the way to hell
third lap before leaving
Race Time
Back on the trail for the third loop I start to do some calculating. After time to exchange farewells and take pictures, the elapsed time is about 4:40 That means I have 2:20 minutes if I want to finish in under seven hours. Not an unreasonable goal, especially if I don't linger at the midway aid station. Since we didn't push the first two loops I feel reasonably fresh. And the weather is just about perfect.

Since I'm running alone now I concentrate on running.  It starts to pay off.  I pay particular attention to the trail to avoid tripping, falling or rolling an ankle.  I even start to catch an pass the occasional runner.

Arriving at the mid-way aid station in 1:03 I gulp down a couple of pierogies (cheese and potato), have my hand-held bottle refilled, chug some Coke, take a handful of chips to go, thank the volunteers and am back on the trail in 45 seconds.

The midway aid station
Since this is my sixth Rosaryville I know the trail well and I know that there are mile markers if you know where to look.  My back of the brain calculation suggests that a 15 minute per mile pace will get me to the finish in under seven hours.

I feel like I'm light on my feet and moving along smartly. No falls, walk the steeper uphills (of which there are few), lengthen the stride on the downhills and go.

I take note of my watch when I pass a mile post.  Then I check my watch again at the next milepost. Surely I've shaved some time off the remaining required pace.

But no.  It takes 15 minutes to get through that mile.  And then 15 to get through the next mile.  This fast-feeling pace turns out not to be so fast.  On the other hand, it is the pace that I need to reach my goal.

Poorly signing '6' for the
number of my Rosaryville finishes
(Photo by Jon Valentine)
I exit the loop with my watch telling me that about 6:40 has elapsed and turn left onto the park road headed back to the start-finish.

"Only three-quarters of a mile to go," the course marshals tell me.

"No!" I reply, "In my mind it is a mile to go." But I know that they are right and that I'll make my goal.

There is a long gentle incline ahead.  I run a bit then walk more. No hurry now. I'm starting to feel the results of my exertion. Knowing that I have a cushion to make seven hours has drained away some of my remaining motivation.

A woman that I passed toward the end of the trail in the loop catches up with me.  We run together a bit and even though we have crested the hill and are headed downhill with the finish in sight, I can't keep up with her.

Crossing the line I'm surprised to see Don. He decided that the course was nice enough and that three loops were not boring so he did the entire race, finishing in 6:43.

(Photo by Jon Valentine)

I finish in 6:50:55 good for 88 of 113 finishers and 54 of  65 males. When I sit at a table at the finish I eye several age group pottery mugs that have not been claimed and peek at the bottoms to see if on is in my age group. It is! I spot RD Tom and ask if if someone has won it.  He suggests that we check at the scorers table so we do. I'm not surprised that someone has finished in 6:02 to claim first.  I'm second of three but there are no prizes for AG non-winners, other than the satisfaction of having finished.

After Jennifer and Gayatri finish, Don accompanies us on the short drive to Bojangles for my traditional post-Rosaryville fast food meal.

Swag: bib, medal and
the traditional Rosaryville hat

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Potomac Heritage 50K - November 6, 2016

Another Non-Linear Report
Like my report on the 2016 MCM this report is non-linear - that is, it is not a chronological report of the race.  Instead, it is thematic.  If you want to know where events occurred, please have the course map handy.

On the Road Again, or We Start When and Where We Want
Mark picks me up promptly at 605 and we are on the way for the 20 minute drive to the house in Woodley Park, DC where the Potomac Heritage 50K begins.  The event is put on by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club and the course meanders through neighborhood trails in Washington, the C&O Canal towpath and the Potomac Heritage Trail in Virginia, where it reaches the supports for the American Legion Bridge before turning around and heading back to Woodley Park on a slightly different route once it reaches Chain Bridge.

Mark fiddles with the radio on the way to the start, alternating between heavy metal and classical music stations.

After parking, we deliver our offering of beer and wine, get our 'bib' numbers - either marked on your hand in magic marker or memorized - and walk to the start. We have received permission to start early, so once we are ready we walk outside, decide which crack in the sidewalk should be the start, synchronize watches and begin - about 77 minutes before the official 0800 starting time.

Bridges to Everywhere
This was a course that had bridges of all sorts and kinds: small wooden bridges over streams or wet areas, pretty, small stone bridges in Dumbarton Oaks Park, the soaring arches of Key Bridge, the concrete utilitarian piers of the American Legion Bridge carrying the Beltway over the Potomac, the steel of Chain Bridge, even the impromptu, and very unofficial, bamboo bridge over Maddox Branch near Canal Road by Fletcher's Boathouse. Some we crossed over, some we crossed under and some we crossed over and under.
Key Bridge from the Virginia side

On the Bamboo Bridge of Death over Maddox Branch
just north of the Terrible Tunnel (about mile 26.5)
Earlier, Mark plays dead on the
Bamboo Bridge of Death (mile 5.5)

Approaching the American Legion Bridge

Striking a pose under the American Legion Bridge
(about mile 19)
Rocks and Rolls
Especially on the Virginia side, the course is rocky and hilly and attention must be paid to every step to avoid misfortune. Even at that minor misfortunes befall us.

I roll both my left and right ankles, once so much that I can hear Mark wince as he sees how far over I go.

"My tendons are so stretched," I tell him, "that I don't do any lasting damage through 90 degrees."

He also rolls an ankle, but for both of us, a bit of limping followed by a return to walking shows we did no lasting damage.

At one point I hear Mark stumble behind me and as he catches his balance I reach out a hand to steady him.  No harm done.

Climbing over rocks on the way back from the American Legion Bridge (about mile 20) I get over the boulders OK, but slip on the way down, partially sliding down the rocks and dirt to the trail a few feet below. No injury to anything but my dignity.

Running on the grassy area approaching the Chain Bridge Road from the George Washington Parkway (about mile 24.5) I step on the edge of a pothole hidden in the grass. I go down, but manage to tuck my shoulder in and roll onto my camelback and the liquid-filled pouch acts as a cushion without bursting open and soaking me in Gatorade.

Respect (for) the Elders
Running along the trail in McLean (about mile 15) a very fit runner passes us and then in a bit comes back toward us looking for a water flask he had dropped.  We note his MARSOC shirt and quickly confirm that he is a member of the Marines Special Operations Command (motto: "Today will be different.") He gets the flask and catches up with us on his training.  He tells us he is training to run JFK 50 Miler in a couple of weeks and when he hears that we have done it he interrogates us for intelligence on what to expect and any tips we have for him. Mark and I offer suggestions that he absorbs them, thanks us and then runs off, as he needs to finish his run so he can get home in time to go to his daughter's volleyball match.

Two miles later we are in Turkey Run Park headed toward the aid station. We are on an uphill single track trail and a family is ahead of us.

After passing the parents the mother calls out the the children in front on us, "Kids! Let the hikers go by!"

In a half hour we have gone from advisers to a Marine Raider to hikers. At least she didn't say "older hikers."

Are We Lost (Again! And again!)?
Mark and I reach the head of the trail after running about half a mile on streets in the Woodley Park neighborhood. We decide not to take a selfie at the graffiti tree even as I warn that it might be bad luck.  At the tree we have to decide to go left or right.  We choose left.  In twenty yards we decide that was wrong and return to the graffiti tree where we honor the course gods with a selfie.

 A mile and a half later we come to Whitehaven Park where two paths cross the field. We choose the right-hand one.  Wrong. It leads to a street. We double back and get on the correct path.

A mile later (about mile 3) we come to a four way intersection in Glover Archibald Park.  A pair of blue chalk blaze indicate that we should turn but which way? Mark goes right in search of a blaze, I irrationally go straight (hey! straight is sort of a direction too!) and then left, where I find another blue blaze.

Climbing up the steep - there are handrails screwed into the stones climb at Gulf Branch (mile 12) I turn to the right to keep ascending. Mark and another runner call me back, as the trail actually continues forward before turning upward.

After leaving the aid station at Chain Bridge (mile 12.5) the trail continues along the south side of Pimmit Run before crossing the stream and heading for Fort Marcy.  As Mark and I proceed a runner comes toward us, asking if he has missed the crossing.  Mark assures him that he has not and tells him that he probably had not gone far enough. For once, we are right and shortly before Pimmit Run crosses underneath the GW Parkway we come to the crossing.

In order to have an aid station between Chain Bridge and the American Legion Bridge, the course leaves the Potomac Heritage Trail and enters Turkey Run Park.  The turn is well marked with white flour arrows and we have no trouble making the turn uphill.  We get to and cross a field like we both remember and then get on some single track.  After a bit Mark thinks we have gone astray as we do not see any more white marks on the ground.  We backtrack and a couple of oncoming runners assure us that we are going correctly.  We turn and follow even though it does not feel right based on memories of the course in the past.  Nevertheless we go on. We come to another clearing and again see no markers. But runners come along and point out white flour that we missed and point to the aid station now in sight.

On the way back we congratulate ourselves on hitting our turns in the District, until we become a bit confused near some neighborhood gardens near mile 28.5.

Bonus Points
On of the great things about the Potomac Heritage 50K - of which there are many - low key, no entry fee, hot food and cold drink at the finish, flexible starting time - is  the opportunity to get time bonuses by performing certain things at some of the aid stations.

So I get some sort of bonus for eating rolled anchovies at the first aid station at Battery Kemble Park (mile 4.5). I like anchovies - I  like them enough that I buy them at Costco - but I get the flat fillets. The rolled are larger and after eating them make a mental note to switch to them.

At the Theodore Roosevelt Island aid station both Mark and I jump rope for a time bonus.

There is no bonus at the the Chain Bridge aid station, and when we get to the Turkey Run aid station outbound we are encouraged to break dance.  The volunteers recognize me from my memorable moves in 2014, but for the moment we decline and proceed to the American Legion Bridge.

On our return I agree to dance "but no break dance," I say, "I might never be able to get back up." With that one of the volunteers cues the music on her phone and I bring on my best moves - which may be memorable, but frankly are not very good.

When we return to the Chain Bridge aid station I am disappointed to learn that there are no raw eggs to carry the final six miles back to the finish.  Like the other bonus activities this has been a traditional Potomac Heritage extra credit assignment (even more points if you eat the raw egg at the finish), put not this year.

On the other hand, the volunteers are making fresh quesadillas flavored with a mild tomato and jalapeno salsa for the runners.  I have one and Mark has two.  Perhaps that should qualify him for extra credit as for the remainder of the course he announces "quesadilla!" each time they repeat. And me repeats "quesadilla" frequently.

With the exception of jumping rope Mark passes up the extra credit activities as he fears that it may so reduce his time that he will not be able to claim a DFL finish.  Since points are rewarded at the discretion of, in in amounts determined by, the race director, there is a risk that an especially good performance could reduce his time below that of another runner.
Mark jumps rope for bonus time
at Theodore Roosevelt Island AS (mile 8.5)
. . . And I do likewise

Dancing for time points
at Turkey Run AS (mile 21)
Walk like an Egyptian

Finished and Famished
Mark and I cross the finish line, or whatever sidewalk crack we decide was the finish line in 9:27:05.  We cross the street and enter our times on the sign-in sheet.  The race director tells us that there is still one person out on the course, probably dooming Mark's hope for a DFL.

I change me shirt and then dig into the food available.  A helping of meat chili and pasta and meatballs washed down with a Tecate is followed by a another helping of chili on top of pasta, helped down with a Flying Dog. All that is followed with a piece of chocolate cake.

Mark rings the time bell, we thank the race director for her hospitality, and walk the couple of blocks to his car for the ride home.

Is a sticker swag?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Marine Corps Marathon - October 30, 2016

Vignettes of a Marathon
Rather than give a step-by-step report on my eleventh (and consecutive) Marine Corps Marathon I'm relating vignettes of incidents along the way.

You Are Doing What?!
Andrew at the start
While walking to the start through Rosslyn from MCRRC's suite at the Key Bridge Marriott my phone rings. My son Andrew is calling and he asks where am I.  I tell him. But where will I be at the start?, he want to know. Then he drops his surprise - he is running the race as well.

This is a stunner. I have no idea that he was planning to run it. He had run the Army Ten-Miler (ATM) three weeks earlier but had given no indication that he was enrolled in the MCM.

And he is following two of my (tongue-in-cheek, mostly) adages: "training is bunk" and "if you can go half the distance you can go the full distance."  His training consists of periodic running, mostly shorter distances and running the ATM.  He tells me that he had run 13.6 on Wednesday prior to MCM.  No carefully calibrated ramping up of mileage to a long run. No 16-week training program. No taper. Nope. Just run half the distance and show up for the race.

We text back and forth and before the race begins find each other.  He points out that he is carrying his medical insurance card just in case something goes wrong. His goal is to finish in between six and six and a half hours.  His friend is joining him in the endeavor and as I start out he waits for his friend to come by with the six hour pace group.

I bid him farewell and good luck as I head out after the 4:45 pace group.

Perfect Ken
Crossing Key Bridge and about to turn onto M Street I apologize to a couple of runners as I split the pair.

"Sorry abut that," I say.

"That's OK," the woman runner, replies, "You're perfect."

"I don't have many people tell me that," I quip, "But I appreciate the compliment."

Patriotic Ken I
South on Rock Creek Parkway (about mile 7.5)
Flag ahead.
Running on Beach Drive I approach a runner carrying an American flag.

"May I have the honor of carry the flag for awhile?" I ask.

Certainly the flag bearer replies as he hands it to me.  I carry it until we have passed under Whitehurst Freeway and I return it to him, thanking him for his courtesy.

Ken Gives an Etiquette Lesson
Running the Blue Mile at Hains Point (mile 11) honoring fallen members of the military I'm passed by a blind runner with his guide.  They are running abreast, with the blind runner on the left holding the guide's right elbow.   The teamwork is exquisite with the guide providing quiet directions of "move left," "move right," speed up a bit" and similar cues.  Occasionally he asks runners ahead to move over so they can pass.

Just ahead, running solo while accompanied by more than 19,000 other runners, is a woman with head phones.  She does not respond to the request and the runner and the guide need to veer to their right.

I approach from her left hand side, reach up and pluck the earphone from her ear.

"You need to pay attention," I preach. "You didn't hear so you didn't get out of the way of the blind runner.  Either keep the ear piece out or turn down the volume so you can hear people around you."

She does not respond but moves to the other side of the course.

I relate the story to a runner of a certain age a few miles later.  She nods and tells me that as she has gotten older she will say things to people that she would not have said when she was younger.

I concur with her.  I later decide that it is comes under the "Crazy Old Person" rubric, which gives those of us of a certain seniority the authority and immunity to provide needed instruction to younger persons.

Helpful Ken
Around mile 15 on Independence Avenue near the Tidal Basin I approach a runner pushing a child in a running wheelchair. The phone in one of the compartments by the handle is ringing and the man is struggling to push while answering the phone.

"I can push while you take the call," I tell him.  He thanks me, I put both hands on the handle and he runs alongside taking the call.  When he is done, he thanks me again and resumes his task.

Patriotic Ken II
Along Madison Drive in front of the National Gallery of Art (mile 16) I come upon Ray, an MCM  regular who always carries an American flag. I've carried his flag before and once again I ask him if I may do so, noting that I've done so in the past.

He agrees, but adds, "Don't run. I can't run anymore." I assure him that I won't and I walk with him a bit. Spectators recognize him and shout out his name in greeting.  I return his flag and press on.

At least I did not fly a drone.
Parking Lot
Due to course changes we cross the 14th Street Bridge at mile 18 rather than mile 20, and that requires additional mileage in Virginia.  Much of it is added by running a sinuous section around the Pentagon parking lot.  By then the day had warmed up considerably, and not surprisingly there were not many spectators in the parking lot.

On the other hand, it did provide some closer approaches to Pentagon (although not as close when the course went near the west side on Washington Boulevard.

In Search of a Queen
After finishing the race, I headed back toward the Key Bridge Marriott. But first I'm on a mission to get some watermelon from the Watermelon Queen. From the expo and from two years ago I know that the National Watermelon Promotion Board will be handing out packaged watermelon at the festival area beyond the finish.

Watermelon from a queen.
I see people with their containers and ask them to point me in the right direction.  Soon I'm at the tent where the fruit is being dispensed.  But I want to receive mine from the highest authority and ask if the Queen is available.  She is, and we pose for pictures, completing my day.

I finished in 4:54:24 (11:13 pace) with half splits of 2:19:27 / 2:34:57, good for 49/201 in my age group, 5712/10641 males and 9249/19,745. It was my eleventh MCM, 96 seconds faster than last year and faster than my first two MCMs in 2006 and 2007. (That's putting lipstick on the pig.)

Either the 2:20/2:39 plan was well executed or I I've run enough MCMs and other marathons to know what to expect. Or maybe a bit of both.  In any case, I met my primary goal of staying under five hours, even if I never came within sniffing distance of the stretch goal of 4:45.

Andrew finishes in 5:57:12 (half splits of 2:45:33 / 3:11:39). He says things were good for the first 18 miles and then it got tough. (Andrew, say hello to the wall.) But he finished and exceeded his six hour goal.

Swag: Shirt, Patch, Bib, Medal
and Finish Line Refreshment Box

Monday, June 20, 2016

Ran It With Janet Fat Ass 50K - June 4, 2016

Trail Talk I
"When did you last pee?" the runner asks her friend.

"I don't remember," comes the reply. "Oh, I do. It was at mile 10." Which would mean she used the pit toilet at the Brownsville Picnic Area at the end of the first loop and where the race begins and ends.

"You need to stay hydrated," the first runner answers. "What color was it?"

"I couldn't see," comes the answer. "It was too dark to look down."

Just another typical day on the trail, where runners are not at all reluctant to ask questions and expect answers concerning topics that would not be raised in more genteel surroundings. (Although as I get older I find that my age cohort is not shy about sharing medical details that might be better left to their doctor's examining room.)

We are somewhere in the second loop of three of the Manassas Battlefield Park running the Ran It With Janet Fat Ass 50K. About thirty persons started the second edition of the race.  I made a last minute decision to run it - signing up on Friday for the Saturday start - and have carpooled out with Mark Z, who ran it last year and is at the wheel today.  The price is right - zero - but RD Janet encourages runners to contribute either cash or needed supplies to Cornerstones, a Reston-based non-profit that provides support for those in need of food, shelter and affordable housing in northern Virginia. At the race start she makes an impassioned pitch for assistance, noting that while Fairfax and Loudoun Counties are some of the most affluent in the country, there are many people, including those with jobs, who are homeless.

I have never been to the battlefield before so I'm going to get to not only run trails but get to explore the ground where two Civil War battles were fought.

Unicorn prizes for the winners.
Mark and I check in and get our specially printed bibs.  The race is unicorn-themed and each bib has a unicorn on it as well as one's race number and name. Prizes for the top finishers are similarly unicorn-themed.

Mark taking a selfie with RD Janet and Lucas
at the start. 
While the race is nominally a fat ass, which generally means not supported, there are two aid stations on the course as well as the aid station at the start and finish which we will pass through at the end of each loop. The first aid station is about four miles into the loop and the second about three miles further on, close enough that I decide that a hand-held water bottle will suffice instead of my camelback.

Following Janet's talk in the picnic pavilion we walk into the parking lot and Janet says go. Mark pauses to take a selfie with RD Janet and her assistant Lucas who is running the race. As we head out he tells me to go on as he wants to get a plastic bag to protect his phone from the high humidity, sweat and any rain that may fall.

Easy unpaved road headed west toward Chinn Ridge
near the start.
I trot on, following an unpaved road through the woods. A group of four or so women run ahead of me. Several are wearing bright yellow "Ultra Mother Runner 50K" singlets decorated with a unicorn. They are part of  "Mom's Run This Town" and include some experienced ultra runners and some first-timers.

Trail Talk II
The Moms are talking.

"So then I went out for a 13-mile run," one reports to the others. "I wasn't sure how it would go, but I hoped that my husband would bring our baby out to meet me."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," someone replies.

"I wasn't sure I'd be able to hold out that long," the first answers. "I was starting to feel full."

I'm listening but not fully understanding. Trail runners, I think, they know what to do. Find a bush or a tree and you are good to go.

"It worked out," the first Mom concludes.  "He brought the baby and I was able to nurse her in time."

Oh. Well, that's a trail topic I hadn't heard before.

The Stone Bridge of First Manassas
and the site of the first aid station.
First Manassas
We run over the ridge at the Visitor Center where General Thomas Jackson received his nickname Stonewall from General Bernard Bee on July 21, 1861 at First Manassas. The nickname would stay with Jackson, but Bee would never know it - a Union bullet killed him soon afterward.  Then on to the site of the Van Pelt House, where Confederate troops on the ridge stood guard overlooking the Stone Bridge carrying the Warrenton Turnpike (now Route 29) over Bull Run.

Approaching where the trial turns down toward the bridge I spot three runners ahead who have missed the turn in the trail.  I yell for them to come back. I yell a second and third time.  Finally one turns and waves me off. "We aren't running with your group," one shouts back.

A unicorn pointing the way near the first AS 
By the bridge is the first aid station, manned by Janet's teenage son and a friend. I refill my water bottle and grab a cookie and some Pringles and head off.  Soon we are headed up the only significant climb of the day but even it isn't very long.  At the top a historical marker indicates that this is where Union troops, led by then-Col. William T. Sherman forded the stream to flank the Confederate positions.

We follow the First Manassas Trail past positions where troops from New York engaged Alabamans near the site of Pittsylvania, the even-then decaying Carter family mansion, then out to fields along Sudley Road, where the Second Rhode Island Infantry of Col. John Slocum eventually pushed the Confederates back. Before the day was over Slocum was dead, only 46 days after he became the the regiment's first commander on June 5, 1861.

Follow the unicorns!
Crossing Sudley Road puts us on the Second Manassas trail.

Unicorn Land
We follow the well marked course by looking for the unicorn signs put out my Janice and her handful of volunteers the day before.

This stretch is apparently well known for its unicorns, or at least the opportunity to see unicorns if one is lucky, as the unicorn play area is just on the other side of Sudley Road and Unicorn Street is just a bit further along.

Never saw them. Maybe too hot to play.
The morning is warm but not overly hot under a cloudy sky, but the humidity it high and a light mist falls for a few minutes. The combination is enough to have one soaked in enough sweat to have it dripping from my shorts by the end of the first loop.

It is also wet enough that the ink on the bibs is soon washed away, leaving only my name, which is written in black Magic Marker.

Their dwellings were hard to spot.

In a bit I come to the second aid station at Featherbed Road. Same routine here - refill the water bottle, get some cookies and move on. 

At the Brawner Farm House, a couple of runners have stopped for a photo. I offer to take it for them and then the three of us move along down to the four lane divided Route 29 which we cross where one of the volunteers had taken a weed wacker to the median's tall grass. From there is about a mile back to the picnic area.

After the first lap.
Second Manassas
I change my sweat-soaked shirt and leave my kerchief behind to dry out.

After running through the woods I get back to Chinn Ridge, where late in the afternoon of August 30, 1862 1,200 Ohioans in four regiments as well as the  lined up, facing west on Chinn Ridge, with one artillery battery in support.  they were there to buy time for other Union troops to form up on Henry Hill. They repulsed two assaults but the third overwhelmed them following a fierce point blank firefight lasting 10 minutes. The Ohio brigade suffered 33 percent casualties, but they gave Pope an additional 30 minutes to bring up reinforcements.  For two hours the troops poured fire into each other.

We run roughly in the direction that the Confederates took in their assault on the ridge.  It is sobering to realize that the neatly mowed grass that are on either side of the paved path were grounds that 154 years ago hundreds of Americans slaughtered one another on,

Union Artillery on Chinn Ridge (Second Manassas)

 After leaving the ridge the course and trail generally follow the route that the Confederate troops took toward Henry Hill after taking Chinn Ridge.  But it was too late to sweep the Union from the field as the sacrifices on the ridge had bought enough time to prevent Lee's army from overrunning and crushing Pope's army.

And the course takes us that way toward Sudley Road and the Henry House and the Union artillery and infantry now formed and waiting on Henry House Ridge. The same ridge where 14 months before Stonewall Jackson earned his name while he waited to repel Union troops.

I pass along the First Manassas Trail again, this time stepping aside for horses and their riders.  Through the first aid station, up the hill and across Sudley Road again.  Past where the elusive unicorn play and live. At some point the first runner easily passes me.

Voices behind hail me.  It is the Mom's Run This Town contingent and they gently chide me for not yelling to them that they had gone off course.  Truth be told, they were so far ahead of me that I never saw them. But it is a trail run, an especially low-key one at that, and I remind them that it isn't a trail run unless you either fall down or get lost.  They soon go on and once again I'm left to run alone.

Wild roses near the Unfinished Railroad.
Past the second aid station puts me back on the Deep Cut trail. The trail follows the unfinished railroad cut which Stonewall Jackson's troops used to devastating effect in repulsing Union attacks on August 29-30, 1862.  The course goes by the site of the "rock fight" where Louisiana troops were reduced to throwing rocks at their attackers when they ran out of ammunition.  Once again I contemplate how much blood was shed on those two days on the ground over which I am running - about 25,000 casualties over three days of fighting.

Four days later Lee's army would ford the Potomac on their way into Maryland.  With the hindsight of history I know that many of the men who survived the fighting in August would be dead or wounded by a small stream in central Maryland known as Antietam Creek.  It took three days to cause 25,000 casualties at Manassas.  Seventeen days later it would only take 12 hours at Antietam to accumulate 23,000 American casualties.

I cross Route 29 again and start looking for a place to pause.  Just as I'm about to I look back and see a runner headed toward me.  I stop what I'm about to do and greet her in passing. Amy A is on her way to being the first female and second overall and doesn't even look like she has broken a sweat.

She goes by, I look back to assure that no one else is coming and attend to what I need to do.  Standing there looking at the trees on the slight rise ahead of me I get the distinct impression that the trail ahead is moving away from me even though I'm standing still. It is an odd hallucination and goes away as soon as I begin moving forward.

After the second lap.
Third Lap
Arriving at the picnic area I ask about Mark's progress. He was about 14 minutes behind me after the first lap race volunteer and official timer Heather informs me.  I go to my drop bag, change shirts again, decide that the handkerchief is dry enough to carry, grab some food (bacon flavored jerky is a special treat), refill my bottle and am just about to head out when Mark comes in to the aid station.  

I wait for him to refill his camelback and get a snack and we head out together for a leisurely third lap.  As usual our conversation is wide-ranging, including a discussion of The First Congress, a book by Fergus Bordewich that I'm reading.

We take our time and I photograph Texas native Mark by the 2012 monument erected on Chinn Ridge by the State of Texas in memory of John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade.  Nearby is a memorial plaque to Daniel Webster's son, Col. Fletcher Webster, who died at the spot while serving with the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer while opposing the Texans' onslaught.

At the visitor center near Henry House Ridge I refill my water bottle and Mark tries unsuccessfully to twirl a discarded hula hoop around his waist.

We trot along, then chat with a mounted Park Police officer and two mounted National Park Service employees as they ford Young's Branch.

After the third and final lap.
We stop to read signs describing the battlefield and take pictures. I'm wearing a shirt from the Bull Run Run 50 miler and he reads the quote from Stonewall Jackson on the back, "Press on, press on, men!" Never mind that he said it on May 3, 1863 as he sent his troops forward to rout O.O. Howard's 11th Corps at Chancellorsville and not at Manassas. It was vintage Jackson, capturing his aggressive leadership in five words. Within hours he would be accidentally wounded by his own troops. Eight days later he would utter his last words and "cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Nearing the Brawner Farm House the sun begins to break through the clouds and the day feels hot.  Mark and I pick up the pace and think that we can finish under 7:30.  We take Jackson's exhortation to heart and finish in 7:28. We tie for 15th of 21 finishers. I'm the oldest and Mark is second oldest. Twelve women finish and nine men. Lucas is the last male, finishing about 15 minutes behind us.

For finishing we are awarded an official unicorn-decorated wineglass.

Swag: Wine glass and faded bib.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bull Run Run 50 Miler - April 9, 2016

"I don't think your heart was in it," Sandy says over our dinner of hot turkey sandwiches Saturday night. "You didn't seem as excited during the week as you usually are."

"Hmm," I verbally shrug. But maybe she was right.

The weeks leading up to my eighth Bull Run Run include a minor setback of not being able to assemble a team. The team competition is mostly for fun, but having won Team Championship blankets for being on the oldest and slowest teams in past races, it is always worth a go.  And it provides and incentive to push on when the going gets tough, as all four members of a team must finish or the team is disqualified.

Daily reviews of the changing weather forecast for the Saturday race keep my attention. While there is precipitation and cooler weather predicted for the end of the week, the precise timing changes with each day's forecast, sometimes calling for rain or even some snow on Thursday or Friday, sometimes pushing the precipitation into Saturday. Other forecasts call for clouds or even sun on Saturday.

On Saturday morning I'm up at 4:15. A trip outside to gather the newspapers and stow my gear in the car is greeted by chilly, but not frigid temperatures, but a light drizzle. Back inside I check the weather radar (isn't it remarkable that we take both that technology and the technology that delivers it to us as a matter of course?) and am heartened to see that it is not raining along Bull Run, about 24 miles to the southwest.

At 4:50 I pick up Mark and Gayatri at her house two blocks away and we drive to the start at Hemlock Regional Park.  Having two or more runners in the car merits us parking closer to the start/finish and we soon stash our drop bags in the covered pavilion by the aid station that we will return to at mile 16.6 before continuing south for the remaining 34 miles of the race.  In light of the weather I've put a complete change of clothes in my bag as well as towels to wipe off with and plastic bags to stash wet clothing.

We go to registration and pick up our bibs and race premiums.  With plenty of time and the car close at hand we stow the loot in the car.

Starting Off
I greet the legendary Tom Green at the start. Last year Tom invited me to join his team of Bull Run Run legends, and I was the last of the team to finish, but that was good enough to win the "Oldest Team" award, setting a record for oldest team ever. (See my report on the 2015 BRR.)  Nine days later Tom nearly lost his life when struck in the head by a rebounding tree limb.  Despite his traumatic brain injury, the first person to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning has been entering ultras and other races and has returned to Bull Run Run as one of only two persons to have finished all 23 previous BRRs.  He loves the sport - and other runners love him - too much for him not to be there.

Crossing Popes Head Creek
Just before the 6:30 a.m. start it starts to rain lightly. A singer struggles a bit with the National Anthem but she finishes strong and we are soon off. I'm wearing tights, gloves, two long-sleeve shirts, a buff, hat and a lightweight jacket to fend off the weather.

The rain stops in a few minutes and I tie the jacket around my waist. The footing is good as the bit of rain overnight has eliminated any dust and provides a little softer surface without creating mud. And there wasn't so much rain to raise the stream crossings over the concrete stepping stones.I run along at a easy pace in the company of Stephanie. She's a much better pacer - and runner - than me and figure she'll help me keep from doing anything foolish early in the race.

Watch Where You Watch
We move along at a steady pace, walking the uphills and running easily on the downhills. Most of BRR is either uphill or downhill, so one does not need to worry about the flats.  We pass the earthen Civil War artillery emplacement.  In a bit we pass a large rock formation on the right.  I hear a rustling from that way and automatically look in the direction only to jerk my head back around to the left. I've seen way too much thigh and hip than is appropriate as a woman runner rises from her crouch.

The BRR website information cautions runners that there are no porta-potties on the course or at the aid stations (although there are rest rooms at Marina (miles 21 and 45). For males this is usually less of a problem (find a large tree, get on the side away from oncoming runners, lean in). Females have greater logistical issues. And no runner wants to waste precious moments going too far off the course to find an appropriate locale. So a rock outcropping blocking the view of oncoming runners was a good choice, betrayed only by the rustle of a running bib. And since the race instructions admonish  that "A non-entrant in the race should not see you relieve yourself" (emphasis added), the runner was not violating race rules.

Approaching Hemlock AS
(Photo by Kevin Sayers)
Not long afterward it begins to sleet.  I put my jacket back on. The white pellets bounce off my hat and jacket and after five or ten minutes the frozen precipitation ends. I glance at my watch. It's about 1:35 into the race and I'm still a way from the Centreville aid station.  I recall that I am usually either at or near the aid station by that time. A bit of doubt creeps into my mind.

 Soon a couple of the front runners come flying towards me, already miles ahead.  I had been expecting them and seeing them at that point was reassuring, as it is about where I have encountered them in years past.

Soon enough I arrive at the Centreville aid station (mile 7.2). After grabbing some cookies and Pringles and refilling my bottle, I'm quickly on my way.

Thru the bluebells, the best in many years.
I pull out my data-based pace card to see how I'm doing. the card consists of four columns: 12 and 13 hour paces, 12.5 hour pace and the cutoffs for reaching certain cutoffs as set by the rules.  The 12.5 hour pace column is based on my last four BRRs, at which I averaged 12:29. So that column reflects the times I've run at the race, not a theoretical pace. The other two columns are proportionally faster or slower but reflect the same real world experiences I've had in completing BRR.

I'm troubled that my time to Centreville is 1:44, two minutes behind the 13 hour pace. After walking a bit trying to tweet my progress and eat the cookies I endeavor to pick up the pace on the 2.2 mile flat section through the bluebells to the turnaround.  I'm slowed a bit picking my way over a small water crossing, electing for one wet foot rather than chancing a bigger slip. I get to the turnaround (mile 9.4) in 2:12. A glance at the pace card shows I'm now only a minute behind the 13 hour pace.

Tom Green at Centerville AS.
Bib #1 recognizes that no one had completed more BRRs.
Headed back I meet Stephanie still headed to the turnaround.  She tells me that she plans to drop when she gets back to Hemlock. That's not good news.

And then it begins to rain. Not a downpour but light and steady. The trail begins to get muddy and slick. And then the rain fades and is replaced by a light snow.  I climb up and down the hill leading back to the Centreville aid station.  Arriving I consult my watch and pace card. A time of 2:41 puts me 3 minutes behind my 13 hour pace, meaning I've lost two minutes on the return from the turnaround.  Then we hear the rumble of thunder as the snow drifts down. I refill my bottle, grab snacks, take a Succeed and head to the steps leading down to the trail.

Inspiration . . .
At the top of the steps I'm surprised and pleased to see Tom Green coming up the steps accompanied by his long-time friend Alan.  Tom is using trekking poles to help with his balance but even so he totters nearing the top and Alan and I both reach out to steady him.  Regardless, Tom is in his usual fine spirits.  No one has a more positive attitude than Tom, and it is undoubtedly a large part of the reason for his recovery from his injury. That pleasantry envelopes and conceals an indomitable will - a will that has brought him here to his 24th BRR, with no chance to finish but a desire to be part of the event.  I cannot tell you how he managed to cross the stream crossings that involve hopping or stepping from stone to stone, or getting across the rip-rap under the railroad bridge or under Route 28 or many of the other challenging parts of the course.  I don't know. But he did, and that's why he has arrived at the Centreville aid station. We greet each other and go our opposite ways.

More bluebells - even pink ones!
. . . Followed by Despair
The snow changes back to rain and the rain stays steady turning the trail into a sloppy, slippery and somewhat treacherous mess. I try to tweet my progress but the rain falls of my device as I type activating keys, making it appear as gibberish. It forces me to give up the message.

The slippery conditions force Tom to put caution ahead of persistence, and he drops 10 miles into the race - the only BRR he has not finished. Frank Probst, age 72, will finish in 12:49, becoming the last remaining runner to have finished all 24 BRRs - and the oldest.

I don't try to avoid the mud in the trough of the trail as the banked sides of the trail are slippery and it is better to plant a foot on level muddy ground than on slanted muddy ground.

I run along with a woman who tells me of a previous experience in running in mud and rain at a 100-miler in Massachusetts. That ended up with an ambulance ride to a local hospital, the result of a serious muscle injury to her hip.

In the meantime, I'll feeling that our pace is lagging due to the slow going in the mud, the cautious approaches to the slick downhills, the energy-sapping cold feet and shirts and a general malaise from the lack of pace.

We recross Popes Head Creek and head up the hill toward the Hemlock aid station at the start-finish area.  Runners have to climb this hill at the finish of the race, 35 miles and hours later, and the climb up it feels like it does when confronted at the end of the race.

It's Over
Getting to the aid station (mile 16.6) I look at my watch - 4:08. Then the pace card - I needed 3:50 for a 13 hour pace.  Even more troubling, I'm 31 minutes behind my average pace for this point in the race.

I go through the motions of changing my wet shirts, socks and shoes for dry ones even as my body starts to cool down. I eat a warm cheesy quesadilla. But I know that I've already decided that my day is over even as I pretend it isn't. No teammates are relying on me to finish.  I call Mark to see whether he plans to go on or drop.  He says he will continue and urges me to keep going.  I tell the volunteers that I'm planning to drop. "Run until someone tells you to stop!" they urge. A brief ember of interest flares inside, but the cold, another look at the pace card considering the additional 20 minutes or so that I've taken to eat, change clothes and contemplate a decision, the forecast for high winds in the afternoon and a feeling of weariness snuffs it out.

I walk to the scorers table, turn in my tear slip from my bib, and walk back to the aid station to greet Mark as he runs through. He'll stay 3-5 minutes ahead of the cutoffs the rest of the day and finish his ninth BRR in 12:54.

Gayatri comes in, drops and we carpool home. We both comment on how strange it is to be getting back from BRR at noon.

It was a tough day at BRR. No records were broken. In fact, the winning men's time was only the 23rd fastest time, and the winning women's time was 44th. Of 310 starters there were 258 official finishers under 13 hours, a finishers' rate of  83.2 percent.  This was the lowest finishing percentage since 2008 when the finishing rate was 81.9 percent. (That year had some mud but warm and humid conditions, although it  also produced a women's then-BRR record.)

Swag: Camp Chair, socks, koozie,wrist band, bib.
Not won; finisher's shirt.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K - March 5, 2016

A Debt Incurred
"You owe me for this," Michele says, leaning in and lowering her voice.

"I appreciate it," I reply, as a voice speaks behind us.

"I can't take it anymore. I gotta get away," I tell Michele as I push on past, struggling up the hill toward the the turn around Clopper Lake. We have about an hour to go, I figure. Gotta. Outrun. The. Voice.

A Great Day for a Run in the Woods 
For the first time in years the weather the week prior to the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K is dry.  That results in a course free of mud, snow and ice, all of which have been part of the race in previous years.

The start in Seneca Creek State Park is in a different location than last year, but includes a pavilion with a fireplace - perfect for warding off the slight chill of the morning.

The race starts on time at 7 a.m. and the 260 or so runners cross a timing mat on their way down about a half mile of park road to spread out the field.  I find it humorous to have a chip-timed ultra, where time is measured in hours and the field is not large but I suppose that it is a way to check on how many runners are on the course.

Both feet on the ground following Don.
(Photo by Ray Bingham)
Notwithstanding the field getting a bit spread out on the park road, there still is an bit of a bottleneck as we turn south onto the single-track of Long Draught Trail. We get a bit of a walk (at least those towards the back of the pack) on the trail until the field further spreads out after another half mile or so.

I run along with Don and babble about various topics, none memorable but all helping the time and distance go by. I rather quickly shed my outer shirt, but Don will keep his jacket on the entire day.

A mile or two south of Riffle Ford Road, as the course follows Seneca Creek through some bottom land, a  string of runners, us included, cross a small wooden bridge and make a sharp left to go on. Soon we are all trying to pick our way across a marshy stretch of ground and not entirely successfully.  On of my feet splashes into some water and my foot is quickly wet.  After about 100 yards we get onto dry ground and back on the trail.  As we do, Jim comes down from higher ground on our left.  He didn't follow the herd and instead followed the trail, which actually runs on the higher ground above the marshland.  So much for following the person in front rather than looking for the trail markers oneself.

Bag It!
A rare shot with both feet off the ground!
(Photo by Brian Butters)
South of Route 118 (about mile 4.5 or 5) Don introduces me to Alice, who is from Anchorage and has returned to Maryland to do some running, including the Massanutten Mountain 100. She is a change management consultant, which leads me to try out some of my lame jokes, like asking her if that means whether companies hire her to tell employees, "we are having some changes here at Megacorp. You're fired." She assures me that she helps people cope with change and the stress it brings.  I reply with one of my favorite expressions, "evolve, or become extinct."

After passing thru the Route 28 aid station (mile 7) the course takes the Route 28 overpass to the west side of Seneca Creek to follow Seneca Bluffs Trail southward.

We take advantage of the stepping stones to ford not-so Dry Seneca Creek and soon arrive at the general store at River Road. The course crosses the bridge (about mile 13.5) and picks up Seneca Creek Greenway Trail for the northbound journey.

Crossing Seneca Creek at River Road to head northbound.
(About mile 13.5)
Just before reaching Berryville Road and the aid station located there, the course crosses a small tributary feeding Seneca Creek. Runners try to pick their way across it without getting their feet wet, but it seems difficult to do. Don has prepared by leaving a pair of shoes and socks in his drop bag at the aid station, so getting his feet wet is a very temporary inconvenience of only a couple of minutes.

I have prepared but in a different manner. I pull two large bags that newspapers are delivered in from my pack along with a pair of rubber bands. I slip them on and simply walk through the inches deep water, at the same time offering my hand to Alice to stabilize her as she hops from rock to rock across the stream. I quickly remove the bags and run the minute or two it takes to get to the Berryville Road aid station (mile 15),

Don is already there changing his shoes and socks. I grab a few cookies, have some cola and top up my hydration pack. As he is wont to do, Don will linger at the aid station only to catch me later.

Runner Down!
Black Rock Mill.
The next 4.5 mile stretch of the trial is very runnable, with only brief, short up-and-downs and the occasional rivulet crossing, none of which threaten wet feet today. I chat with various runners as we leapfrog one another.  After a couple of miles I spot someone ahead who looks familiar but the distance is a bit too far to be certain.

Then she falls down and I and a couple of other runners catch up with her.  It is Michele - who I thought it was - and she is unhurt.  She dusts herself off and we set off together.

Soon enough we cross under Route 28 and arrive at the aid station at that location. As I wait to use the Porta-potty, Don passes and heads for the food table. Volunteers are making grilled cheese sandwiches and Don decides to wait for one as Michele and I head on. (Later we hear of his disappointment of only getting a quarter of a sandwich after a five-minute wait when the volunteers quarter it and give the other portions to later-arriving runners.)

Whadda Mean 26.2?
Arriving at Black Rock Mill (mile 21) volunteers direct the runners onto the Seneca Ridge Trail on the east side of the creek, whereas we had run south on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail on the other side of the creek. With trails on both sides of the creek for nearly its entire length, there is very little duplication for the race - the mile and a half between the mill and Route 28, about the same distance from the lake to Riffle Ford Road and the half mile of park road at the beginning and end. Although it is not an official aid station a volunteer helps top up my hydration pack as it is almost 6 miles to the next aid station.

They had a bad day.
Michele and I leapfrog one another a bit as we each employ slightly different walk-run intervals but never get out of sight of each other. This section of trail is somewhat hilly and one spends a fair amount of time either ascending or descending.

At one point we come up on a runner who is walking.  It is his first SCGT race and he's pretty well spent.  He looks at his GPS and says we have gone about 25 miles and he is looking forward to the marathon being over in about 1.2 miles.

I break the bad news to him. "It's maybe that far to the next aid station," I say. "Didn't you see on the website that this race is notoriously long and the marathon is more like 28 or 29 miles?"

Later, after we have gone that mile and a quarter and I'm starting to moan about still having pretty far to go to the aid station, Michele tells me that she knew that the aid station was well more than a mile away but she didn't further want to discourage the runner.

Must. Keep. Going.
At one point Michele expresses concern about us still being on the correct path as we have not seen a blaze or ribbon in awhile.  I assure her that we are and then spot a blue ribbon.  I ask her if I should take it and tie it to my pack so that she can be assured of always being in sight of a trail-marking blue ribbon.  She declines my offer.

Almost to Clopper Lake with Michele in tow.
(Photo by Hai Nguyen)
Despite the refill at Black Rock Mill, I run dry well before reaching the Riffle Ford aid station (mile 27). Fortunately the temperatures have not climbed much and the risk of dehydration is low. But it is a relief to get to the aid station and get a refill.

As we navigate the less than two miles to the decision point for the 50K - for Michele and I the decision was made long before - Michele moves ahead.  I am run with someone who is talking and for some unknown reason is beginning to annoy me.  Maybe it is a result of running without water for a while or I am just getting tired, but I'm beginning to get irritated by the runner. This has happened before (see the "Hell is a Lonely Place" section of my Madrid Marathon report), but since I don't know the person I don't feel that I can speak freely, e.g., say "shut the f**** up!"

Instead I sprint ahead to Michele and ask for her help. She graciously agrees and slows down to chat while I struggle to push on to the best of my ability.

Reaching Clopper Lake we turn right to circumnavigate the lake while marathoners turn left to head to the finish.

Halfway over the dam Michele passes me and takes the lead.  I pick up my pace to try to stay with her, figuring that it is better to die trying to run harder than is comfortable than be stuck listening to the person who was driving me nuts.  Every time we wind our way around one of the several fingers of the lake I look back to see if the person is gaining.  I'm in a near panic not to be caught.

50K is 31.1 miles.
So why is this mile 32 with still nearly a mile to go?
(Photo by Hai Nguyen)
About three quarters of the way around the lake we look across the inlet we just rounded and see that the person is gaining.  By this point Michele is pretty well spent and so am I.  We walk more and more and soon the person catches up to us.

Remarkably that gives me another jolt of energy and I resume running, pulling away from the pair.  Even as I go I can hear the person speaking. It only drives me to push harder. Just before reaching the park road for the last half mile or so I'm left to listen to my footsteps and breathing.

Finish Details
I finish in 7:49:53 (chip time), with a reported  pace of 14:15/mile, indicating a distance of 32.9 miles. I'm 4 of 4 in my age group, 111 of 129 overall.

There are 129 finishers of the 50K and 131 finishers of the (29 mile) marathon. This is the first year that there are more marathon than 50K finishers (in 2015, for example, 106 in the 50K; 67 in the marathon). Historically 60 to 70 percent of the runners choose the longer distance.  Perhaps having the decision point so close to the finish influenced the choice of distance.

I get my travel mug premium, and grab a part of a roast beef sub which I eat on the walk back to the car. After the drive home I shower, change and Sandy and I head off to Erika's for dinner.
Swag: Mug, bib.