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.