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