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.