Thursday, November 9, 2017

Marine Corps Marathon - October 22, 2017

The Pieta of the Blue Mile
The 30-something woman is sitting on the ground, inconsolable even though two friends are with her, one on either side. She is crying and sobbing, and her shoulders heave while her hand reaches out to the picture of a service member near the end of the long row of pictures along the Blue Mile. Brother? Husband? Friend? All we know is that the heartbreak is fresh and raw and not what she ever thought she would have to face at mile 12 of the Marine Corps Marathon.

I try to say something to Emaad but the words stick in my throat. The human cost of our endless wars is on display in its rawest emotional form. There really are no words to say.

The Blue Mile is at mile 12 on the long, straight flat stretch of Hains Point, with the Potomac River to the right.  About 250 pictures of fallen warriors line either side of the course, arranged in chronological order. The runners, who had been chatting along, spontaneously fall silent through the sorrowful gauntlet. Each sign is the same: a picture with a name a date a location and an age in a blue bordered-frame. Some are in combat gear, others in dress uniforms, others in family portraits. The dates roll on - 2014, 2015, 2016, February 2017, June 2017, September and October 2017.

The woman is near the end - a September picture likely, or maybe even October.  When she signed up for MCM, she thought she would honor him by running the race. There was no way should could have known that his picture would be there on the Blue Mile, for he must have been - he had to have been - alive when she signed up for the race in the Spring.

Some runners stop and take pictures with some of the signs, but they are near the beginning of the Blue Mile, and they have had a chance for their losses to develop scars.

But not her. It has only been a few weeks when she received notification and the pain, the loss, the grief is still fresh. And she ran 12 miles knowing what lay ahead. Every step coming closer to the picture of the man that she would see or hear again. A long journey with no hope, no chance of a different outcome.

And the rest of us run by, by the tens, or hundreds, or even thousands depending on how long she sat there with her hand on the sign of the man who would never come home again.

The Evolution of a Plan
Emaad and I do a 20-mile training run several weeks before MCM.  We find ourselves running some and walking some. I suggest that for MCM maybe we should regularize it rather than our current ad hoc approach of walking when we feel like it. He agrees and we decide that a run 5, walk 1 minute approach might be right.

The next week I see a report from Kenny on his performance at the Hartford Marathon, He runs 3:01 and keeps a nearly perfect even pace throughout.   Karsten congratulates him on his ability to stay focused and implement his plan and not try to chase a sub-3 hour goal at the end.  This gives me two more ideas - run an even pace (no fly-and-die, banking time at the start) and stick to the plan.

Our goal is rather modest - to finish under five hours.  It hasn't happened in 2017 for me, with a catastrophic collapse at the GW Birthday Marathon and a less spectacular but still dreadful final four miles at the Edinburgh Marathon. Emaad agrees on the plan.

Amigas Fall by the Wayside
For the past several years we have had the Cinco Amigos at MCM, with Jennifer and Rebecca joining Emaad, Barry and myself in carpooling to the race.  But Jennifer is having heart issues and decides that prudence is the best course of non-action. Rebecca has started a new career as a law professor some distance from Washington and determines that it would be wiser (that's why she is a professor) to stay at school and prepare for an upcoming evaluation than drive hundreds of miles round trip and be exhausted in the classroom upon her return.

Tres Amigos, or as Barry said, Three Blind Mice
Barry and Emaad show up at my house on time, I give them coffee and we grab the box of regular-sized donuts (Rebecca usually provided a box of "colossal donuts). The drive to the MCRRC suite at the Rosslyn Holiday Inn is uneventful, as is the subsequent walk to the starting line about a mile away.

Implement the Plan
The weather promises to be warm, with highs in the 70s so we dress and prepare accordingly. Shorts are in order and Emaad and I decide to carry hand-held bottles to increase our ability to hydrate. I also carry gels for energy and Succeed! salt tablets.

At the start Barry hangs back to meet up with Sako and Emaad and I go on. We go out easy, partly because it takes nearly a mile for my chronically sore right knee to stop complaining. But that is a blessing in disguise as it prevents us from getting caught up in the initial excitement of the start of the nation's fourth largest marathon, with V-22 Ospreys doing flyovers, rows of troops holding flags and the iconic howitzer blast of a starting gun.

Headed down Spout Run, about mile 3
We walk much of the uphill on Lee Highway toward the water station at mile 2 then pick up the pace a little bit on the downhill of Spout Run. The crowded course keeps us from going too fast, and the uphill of the ramp to Key Bridge calls forth another walk opportunity.  We reach the water stop on M Street in Georgetown about a minute ahead of the five hour pace. Down to K Street and the loop to head north on Rock Creek Parkway keeps us going, and we become a bit more structured about the run 5, walk 1 strategy.

Northbound on Rock Creek Parkway, about mile 6
It is a mile and a half north on the Parkway and then we turnaround for the five and a half miles of flat course to the halfway mark at Hains Point. We skip the proffered orange slices near the Kennedy Center and step carefully as the oils from the cast aside peels make the pavement slick.

Every mile I compare my watch with the pace band and announce how we are doing. Since mile 5 we have been about two minutes ahead of the five hour pace, and we retain that difference all the way to the halfway mark which we clear in 2:28:06.

This is the point last year that things started to deteriorate, but I feel good now.  This is partly due to the walk every five minutes and partly due to carrying a bottle which enables us to have it topped up at the water stations rather than trying to drink from half-filled small cups.

Circling the Tidal Basin just past mile 15 I spot a penny in the road and circle back a couple of steps to pick it up. That may have been inspired by a spectator sign earlier on the course: "You paid $160 for this. That's $6.11 per mile. Run like it's worth it."

In just a bit we spy An on the side of the course. He gives Emaad and I cookies, which Barry had asked him to bring down.

Just after making the turn at the end of Independence Avenue to head back toward the Mall and the Capitol, I hear, "Dad! Dad!" It's Andrew, who deferred his entry to next year.  He's down there with his bike to cheer on a friend who has come to town from the Southwest. He trots along for awhile, pushing the bike while chatting with Emaad and me. Finally he peels off to seek his friend who is ahead of us.

Through mile 15 we maintain our two minute cushion, but now we are starting to struggle. At mile 16 we are a minute to the good and at mile 17 we are even. Emaad is starting to fade and when we reach mile 18, even with the pace card, we have a brief discussion.  I tell him I'm feeling pretty good and he urges me to go on.
Approaching the Capitol, just past mile 18
Chasing the Clock
Being even with eight miles to go means there is no margin of error, no cushion, no "time in the bank." And the old joke about a marathon being a 10K following a 20 mile warm-up still lies two miles ahead.

But I have a plan, I feel good and decide that I need to go as best I can in the parameters of the plan.  I put Kenny and Karsten's comments on replay in my mind.

At the water stop just past mile 19, across from the Smithsonian Castle I unscrew the top from my bottle and thrust it toward the USMC lieutenant manning the table. "Thank you, sir," I ask. As the bottle is filled the lieutenant says, "That's thank you ma'am." I babble an apology and run off.

Making  turn onto 14th Street to approach the eponymous bridge, I spy a nickel in the road. But it is truly "in the road" and after a couple of tries I can't pry it out and abandon the effort.

Passing the mile 21 marker on the far end of the bridge I note that I'm a minute behind the pace card, and I stay a minute behind at mile 22 headed into Crystal City.

The Man in the Arena
I recall Theodore Roosevelt's speech to the Sorbonne in 1910: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Although I am familiar with the quote, it doesn't actually come to mind. But the spirit of it does. And then something happens that convinces me that I cannot give up.

I hit the wrong button on my watch.

At some point in Crystal City, amidst the cheering crowds and runners going in both directions I realize that I hit the stop button rather than the start button to reset the mile timer.  I don't know how long ago it was, just that my watch is no longer going to tell me how long I have been running and hence, how much time I have remaining.  And to compound the mistake I miss mile markers 23 and 24, so I don't even have a recent mile pace.

All that remains is to stay mentally strong, and execute the plan. I "need to get my mind right."

I keep enough of my wits to get some beer from the Hash House Harriers, though. Hydration is important.

Nothing to do now but implement the plan. Run 5, walk 1. I even do it on the small hill of the ramp onto Route 110 and the downhill toward mile 26 and the left turn up toward the finish at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Only there, on the steep first part of the climb, do I walk during what should be a run interval. But at the top, with the finish in sight I run and cross the finish. The clock says 5:10, but that is gun time, not chip time. I'll have to wait until I get home to see if I broke five hours.

Thank you, Lieutenant!
I collect my medal from the Marine lieutenant at the end, gather my food box and a bottle of water and head back toward the hotel.  I stop to get watermelon from the Delaware-Maryland Watermelon Queen (2017 was a good year, I'm told) and give the bottle of water to a woman hovering over a nauseous runner on his knees. At the hotel I change, and get some beef stew, cookies and a beverage from the buffet while I wait for Emaad and Barry.

Emaad finishes in 5:31, saying he mostly walked the last eight miles. Barry finishes in 6:03.

That night I check the results.  I finished in 4:59:56. Mission accomplished!

My splits were 2:28/2:31. Overall, I was 50 of 204 in my 65-69 AG, 6131 of 10776 males and 9980 of 20042 overall.

Watermelon from a Queen
Swag: shirt, bib, medal, patch

Program, snack box, pace band and cool-down jacket

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ran It With Janet 50K - June 3, 2017

For a Good Cause
I pick up Gayatri for our drive out to the Manassas National Battlefield Park and the third running of the Ran It With Janet 50K. The race is the brainstorm and unicorn child of Janet Choi, who puts the race on as a fundraiser for the Embry Rucker Emergency Shelter in Reston, Virginia. But unlike many other charity races, where the race organizer makes vague promises about donating "the profits" or "a portion" of the race fees to a charity, Janet has a simple and transparent model.  The race fee is $5 and she asks that you make a donation to Cornerstones, the non-profit organization that operates the shelter.  She does not require that one make a donation or even recommend an amount. Instead, there is a link to a 'friendraiser' page on the race website and a jar on the registration table.  I put a check for Cornerstones in the jar when I register, pleased to know that the entire amount will go to Janet's charity of choice.
Clockwise from top: Jennifer, Ken, Mark, Gayatri
(photo by Mark Zimmermann)
We meet Mark and Jennifer at the start at the Brownsville Picnic Pavilion.  It is a covered pavilion where we can leave drop bags. This is a low-key race and there are only 57 persons signed up. Since the course is three loops some runners plan to run only one or two laps. Janet calls everyone to the parking lot for the start, gives some instructions and words of advice and encouragement, and sends us off.
Janet give instructions while Mark photographs her
First Lap - The History Tour
Jennifer, Gayatri and I start off together while Mark takes photos and takes his time. The weather is not bad for the beginning of June and is considerably cooler than last year (report here).  After a couple of miles Jennifer and I pull away from Gayatri, but it soon becomes evident to me that I will not be able to stay for long with Jennifer. As usual, she has packed plenty on her schedule for the day - as if running a 50K isn't enough - and she has to pick up her rock-climbing daughter later in the afternoon. That is even more incentive for her to run fast, and after about five miles, I wave her on and settle into my usual plodding pace.  It isn't long before she is out of sight.

Aid Station at Stone Bridge (about 4 miles into the loop)
On Second Manassas Trail west of Sudley Road
 Pretty much left to running alone, I spend some time contemplating the two battles that occurred on this ground more than 155 years ago, while our nation, as Lincoln said, "engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."

The two battles would claim 26,000 dead, wounded and missing. The casualties of Second Manassas, fought only 13 months after the first battle, show the increasing escalation of the war - with 2800 dead on both sides, compared to fewer than 900 at First Manassas. Yet that was a mere harbinger of what lay ahead, as 18 days later, the same two armies would engage in the single bloodiest day of American history, with a combined 22,700 casualties, including 3700 dead, at Antietam on September 17, 1862. Ten months later, three days at Gettysburg would add another 51,000 casualties to the toll of what Lincoln described as "every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'"

Henry Hill Monument
Commemorating Union soldiers who fell at First Bull Run
As to the cause of the war, and the reasons for it, hear Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, "One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war. . ."

Confederate Cannon near Brawner Farm, Second Manassas
And on this day, I run on the ground on which, and for which, so many suffered and died and were buried. Lincoln has the final word: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully."

Second Lap - On the Unicorn Trail
Returning to the start-finish I change my shirt and handkerchief that I carry to wipe off the sweat.  As I'm about to head out Mark and Gayatri come in and we go off together.  The day has warmed up a bit, but it isn't at all oppressive. We go on together for awhile and then, like during the first loop, Mark and I pull away from Gayatri. And just like on the first loop, Mark pulls away from me, in almost the same place where Jennifer had.  I slow down a bit and Gayatri catches up.

Kissing the Unicorn at the Featherbed Road Aid Station
(about 7 miles into the loop)
We take our time, running, walking and chatting. We see no other runners, neither overtaking anyone nor being overtaken. (That's not entirely accurate, as we do get lapped by several of the leaders on their way through their third and final loop.)

Gayatri passes a unicorn directional sign
I make this the unicorn loop, enjoying the unicorn-themed course signs, aid stations and other unicorn concepts that Janet incorporates into the race. Winners get unicorn-themed prizes, and the finishers' tumblers have unicorns on them as well.

On the trail near the unfinished railroad trail
About a mile from the end of the loop, as we run on the trail through a field, I move a bit to my right to avoid a large black stick on the trail.  Then the three-foot long stick comes to life and the northern black racer disappears into the grass on the left.  I give out a start, and Gayatri yells and jumps toward me.  We both quickly calm down and proceed to the finish of the second loop.

Third Loop - The Nature Tour
I change back into my shirt from the first loop, as it has dried out. In keeping with the battlefield theme, I'll wear blue on the first and third loops and grey on the second.

Bee on a thistle approaching Chinn Ridge
Since neither Gayatri nor I are in much of a hurry, and are simply content to finish,  I declare the third loop the nature loop and stop frequently to take pictures. We still see no other runners and speculate that we may be the last runners on the course.  At the Featherbed Road Aid Station we get a report that Mark is about 20 minutes ahead of us.  Approaching the Henry Hill Monument we come across Merle Zimmermann, Mark's son who offers to refill our bottles from gallon jugs of water he has carted out there.

Near Chinn Ridge
We thank him, pass the Brawner Farmhouse, cross Route 29, now Lee Highway, then the Warrenton Turnpike, pass the locale of the snake encounter, climb the final small hill, and head to the finish.

A pair of bees visiting a thistle


Queen Anne's Lace?


Wild Roses near the Unfinished Railroad
 Mark is waiting at the finish line with his camera and urges us to sprint to the end.  Gayatri takes up the challenge, while I continue my steady, er, slow pace.
Gayatri out sprints me to the Finish
(Photo by Mark Zimmermann)
It turns out that we are not the final finishers.  Two other runners finish behind us, but I am the final male. On the other hand, I'm the oldest male. Gayatri is the oldest female besting two others.

I finish in 7:41:48, good for 32 of 34 finishers, 16 of 16 males (yeah, it is an ultra with more women than men finishers!) and 3 of 3 in my age group.   My loops are 2:10/2:35/2:55, all slower than last year and an overall 13 minutes slower. But it was an enjoyable run, and that's why I run.

Jennifer finishes in 6:08, good for fifth female overall and second in her age group. Gayatri wins her age group. Mark finishes in 7:16, also good for first in our age group.

A college alumni group is having picnic at the Brownsville Picnic area and they generously offer to share their food with us.  On the way home, we drive through McDonald's and I get a milkshake and an iced tea.
Swag: Bib and a Ran It with Janet tumbler

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Edinburgh Marathon - May 28, 2017

Expo, or Not
On Saturday morning, Emaad and I take an easy run two-mile run from our Tollcross apartment, along The Meadows and past the University of Edinburgh to packet pick-up at Dynamic Earth. The 5- and 10-K races are scheduled for the morning and we see runners finishing and preparing to start.

Packet pick-up is really only bib pick-up and only for those runners who live outside the U.K. or Europe, or for those who had not received their bibs in the post.  We get them, visit the one vendor selling race and running supplies and visit a couple of booths of the various charities who have runners in the race.

Bibs in hand, we walk back along the Royal Mile. It is the main street of the Old Town of Edinburgh and nearly every shop along it caters to tourists.

To the Start
Nelson Monument on Calton Hill
near the start and our silver corral
Since the marathon does not begin until 10 a.m. on Sunday there is no hurry to get going.  A leisurely breakfast and a five minute cab ride takes us to within a block of the marathon start area.  We hand in our drop bags so we will have a dry shirt at the finish and take our time strolling to our assigned silver corral.  From there we can see the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill to our left and Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat, the extinct volcano which overlooks Edinburgh. Temperatures are in the upper 60s with some sun, and the forecast is for mid- to upper 70s.

Emaad and I had decided to wear the same shirts, our Antelope Canyon ones from the February race, but without planning we are both wearing black shorts and black socks. We spot the Viking boat team which is starting in the same corral as we are.
Vikings! Taken at the start, but they were everywhere.
We hear the starting signal and begin walking to the start line.  Crowds line either side of Regent Road and we cross the start line about 14 and a half minutes after the gun.  In a couple of blocks we merge with the runners who had started on London Road. Or maybe we fall in behind those runners, as the faster corrals started there.
Along Queen's Drive (about mile 1)
Then it is on to Queen's Drive, with Holyrood Park on the right and views of Arthur's Seat as we pass St. Margaret's Loch with views of St. Anthony's Chapel partway up the hill.

St. Margaret's Loch with St. Anthony's Chapel
(about mile 1.5)
In less than a mile we pass Holyrood Palace on the left and the Scottish Parliament of the right. the former is the Queen's official residence and was built in the 17th century.  The latter was built in 2004 and designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles, in a style hard to describe - perhaps free form contemporary.  Facing each other across the street, they offer a study in contrasts, and a study in the contrast between British sovereignty and Scottish devolution.

To the Beach
The first four miles are gently downhill as we make our way toward Leith, the waterfront area of Edinburgh.  About mile 5 we turn onto the Portobello Promenade, a seafront way with the beach and the Firth of Forth to the left and typical beach resort shops to the right.  We run past diners enjoying a late breakfast along the promenade.  As turns out to be the case much of the way, there are many spectators offering tubs filled with jellies.

Around mile six I remark to Emaad that my quads are sore.  He notes the same sensation, probably due to the seemingly easy downhill at the start.

From Portobello we pass the first of the three relay changeover points and cross the mostly dry - it's ebb tide- River Esk into Musselburgh. We pass the Musselburgh Race Course, which surrounds The Old Links, where golf has been played since 1672.

Crossing the River Esk (at low tide)
(about mile 8.5)
Past Musselburgh we spot a motorcycle coming toward us in the opposite lane.  Behind the cycle is a the lead runner, Julius Korir, who goes on to win the race in 2:17.

Prestongrange Museum
(about miles 11 and 24)
Then it is past the Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum and into Prestonpan.  We continue to enjoy views of the beach and water to our left.

We pass a bagpiper wearing a shirt of Macmillan Cancer Support, one of numerous charities, mostly medically related, with runners in the marathon.  There are far more charity-garbed runners than at races in the U.S., including for diseases that I have never heard of.  Every cancer seemingly has participants offering assistance to either fight it or provide assistance to persons afflicted by it.

Macmillan Cancer Support Bagpiper in Prestonpans
(about mile 12)
Halfway and On Plan
In Cockenzie and Port Seton we reach the halfway point in 2:22:43.  Our goal, modest as it is, is to finish in under five hours, so our half time gives us a little over 7 minutes to play with.  It isn't a huge cushion, but gives us a positive sense as we continue into the second half.

Emaad walks on the High Street in Cockenzie and Port Seton
(about mile 13.1)
Fry and Die
The day is unseasonably warm for Scotland, with temperatures climbing well into the upper 70s. We are more accustomed to it than many of the local runners, and we see more than several runners down receiving medical attention.  Both of us have Succeed! salt tablets with us and I take one every hour, as the salt helps retain water and fight dehydration, and the small amount of potassium in the tablets helps prevent muscle cramping.

Past Cockenzie the countryside turns rural, with fields and hedges to the right and fields and the Firth of Forth to the left. The road rolls a little bit in elevation, with gentle but noticeable ups- and downs. We run to the turnaround and soon pass through the gates leading to Gosford House. We pass the house at mile 18. A glance at my watch and my pace band shows we are still 7 minutes ahead of five hour pace.

Emaad asks me if my hip is bothering me. I reply in the negative and inquire why he asked.

"You're running crooked," he says.

"Like sideways?" I say and turn so my right shoulder is pointed forward and my left to the rear.

"No, you are leaning way to your left," he clarifies.

Sure enough, I then realize that I am leaning far to the left.  I was not even aware of it until he pointed it out and I make a conscious effort to straighten up.

"Ah! No problem," I quip. "Just a series of small strokes."

Entry to Gosford House Estate
(about mile 18)

Gosford House
(mile 18)

Cows on the estate of Gosford House (about mile 18.5)
We exit the estate and head back toward the finish line in Musselburgh. We are looking for the 19 mile marker and it never seems to come. Emaad's GPS says we have long since passed it, before it comes into sight more than 15 minutes after passing mile 18.  And sure enough, the marker for mile 20 comes abreast in less than 9 minutes.

Now we are beginning to labor. It takes more than 12 minutes to reach mile 21 in 3:54 but we are still six minutes to the good. Keep up a 12:30 mile pace, a fairly modest goal, and we cross the finish in under five hours.

But Emaad is gradually pulling away from me.  I try to keep up and begin leapfrogging the Vikings, whose lead boatsman? runner? is suffering from cramps in his calves. The boat pulls to the side of the course and the crew member behind him messages his calves.  Soon enough they get going again and pass me, only to repeat the exercise until it gradually pulls away from me.

By mile 23 my advantage over the pace card is down to three minutes and mile 24 pretty much wipes that out.  I push on but by the last half mile I have the thousand-yard stare and am oblivious to the cheers, "well dones," and exhortations of the spectators. I slog across the finish line in 5:05:26.

Emaad is there waiting for me.  As the Viking boat caught up to him he reached for some inner reserves and pushed hard to the finish, with his closing sprint allowing him to finish in 4:59:53.

Emaad and I at the finish. I am still leaning.
(Photo courtesy of E. Burki)
We get our medals and finisher's box, get our picture taken and head to the bag pick-up for our bags.  The friendly teen-age volunteer sees us coming and has our bags waiting for us as we arrive.  We go out to Pinkie Road and get on one of the local buses for a ride back to Edinburgh.  The double-decker bus is chock-full of runners and I feel bad for the locals on the bus as the windows do not open and the atmosphere is fetid.  The bus takes us to within four blocks of our apartment, and after a stop at the Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchen for some hydration, we get back to the apartment in time for some rest before heading out for a feast of meat at the South African Shebeen restaurant.

I finish in 5:05:26, after running out of steam at mile 23.  Overall I finish 4800 of 6126 finishers, 3384 of 4032 males and 13 of 25 in the 65-69 male AG.

Swag: bib, medal, key fob,
Box with shirt,bottle, space blanket, gels

Finishers' Award Box

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K - March 4, 2017

Trail sign at Black Rock Mill
(Photo by B. Butters)
I drive up the block and pick up Gayatri for the quick and easy drive to Seneca Creek State Park where the MCRRC Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K begins and ends.

As I walk up to her door I realize that I've forgotten to bring my phone.  So after she gets in the car, we backtrack to my house, and after a fruitless  search of all the usual spots, I pick up a house phone (yeah, we are old enough to still have a land line) and call it.  Crickets. No ringing is heard.  Then I realize why.  When I get back in the car Gayatri tells me she heard it ringing near the driver's seat. A brief search locates where it fell out of my pocket.

We park a couple of minutes from the start at the Blue Jay Picnic Pavilion.  Gayatri goes and collects our bibs and chips and returns to the car. We are committed to staying in the car for as long as possible due to the crisp temperatures in the lower 20s.  I debate whether to use my hydration pack - pros, carrying up to 50 ounces of drink, plus pockets for gels, phone and other stuff; cons, more weight and it seems to be leaking. I decide against it - who wants to be wet with temperatures below freezing?  I have a hand-held bottle and can carry my phone in a pack around my waist.  Except that I discover that I left the pack home, so I have to leave the phone in the car.  That means no tweeting while running and I'll have to rely on course photographers for pictures.

I also check my bag to get out Little Hotties for my feet.  But once again, I've managed not to pack them.  I'll have to count on the day to warm up to dodge the discomfort of cold toes.

Invisible Friends
At the start I run into Bob Y. and ask if he has seen Don who has indicated that he was going to run today.  Bob says that he had talked with him, but as I scan the crowd (less than 300 participants) I don't see Don who usually stands out in his hunter's orange jacket.

Early in the day
(Photo by B. Butters)
Nor do I spot frequent running friend Jennifer (who makes frequent appearances in my reports) although she has said she would be here. A final meander through the runners waiting for the start signal turns up no sign of either so when the GO! word is given, I'm off on my own.

Since I'm not wearing my Nathan hydration pack and I don't have my waist pack, I've had to stuff four gels in the mesh pockets of my RaceReady shorts along with my keys and ID in the Velcro-closing pockets.  The result is that the shorts are continually sliding down, particularly in the rear, and every few minutes I have to tug them back up.  This goes on for a couple of hours until I eat a couple of the gels and the downward pressure is relieved.

Visible Friends
After about a half mile on the paved park road we turn right onto the Greenway Trail and head south.  It is an uneventful six miles to Black Rock Mill.  The toes on my left foot get uncomfortably cold for awhile, but eventually warm up.  I exchange MMT 100 pacing stories with some other runners but generally run in silence.

In another mile and a half or so we arrive at the Route 28 Aid Station where I get some bacon and a donut and top off my water bottle.

We cross Route 28 on the bridge over Seneca Creek and turn left onto Seneca Bluffs Trail for the five and a half mile stretch down to River Road.

The trail is typical eastern trail - dirt, up and down, with varying amounts of rocks and roots.  One has to pay attention and spend most of one's time looking at the trail to avoid going down. Having come from running in Arizona last week, where I ran in 16 miles of sand, and on slickrock and dirt trail, the contrast is particularly noticeable.  The sand made for some slower going, but one could look around at the scenery without much concern of tripping.

Although the trail is in an area listed as being under a severe drought by the U.S. Drought Monitor and I'm approaching the ironically named Dry Seneca Creek ,I 'v come prepared, carrying two plastic bags and some rubber bands to use on my feet.  As I contemplate the stepping stones across the creek I'm confident that I can get across without the bags or getting my feet wet.

As I hop from stone to stone, I heat "Ken Swab" called out behind me.  It's Caroline. To say she is an avid ultrarunner would be like saying that the ocean is full of water. According to (which tracks this sort of thing) she has run over 160 ultras. And that does not include road marathons.

I stay up with her for awhile but soon she pulls away. "You'll catch me again," she says as she bounds away.  I'm not so sure.

We get to River Road at mile 13.5, cross over Seneca Creek, and get on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail for the northbound part of the course. In a mile and a half, after some up and down, we reach a tributary stream where I manage to pick my way across with dry feet without using the plastic bags.

In a hundred yards I come to the Berryville Aid Station (mile 15.5).  I ditch the plastic bags, refill my bottle, grab some Pringles, M&Ms and trail mix and head out on the 4.4 mile stretch back to Route 28.

In a short while I catch up to Caroline and we mostly run, and occasionally walk the largely flat (gently net uphill) section.  We chat and surprisingly soon are back at the Route 28 Aid Station.

I refill my bottle and get some bacon crumbles. Mike offers me an entire grilled cheese sandwich, but I decline and take a quarter of one and head out.  Caroline lingers a bit, but by the time we reach Black Rock Mill (about mile 17) she catches up with me. There is an informal aid station there and I top up my bottle, as it is almost 6 miles to the next aid station.

Caroline and I leapfrog each other a bit, but mostly we run together, talking of the profound and the trivial.  She indicates that she only plans to do the marathon distance as she wants to run ten miles on Sunday. After a few miles she stops to stretch or otherwise adjust to a twinge and I go on.

A pair of runners follow, one who has read my report on the 2016 SCGT race and says that if they stick with me, they will finish. Eventually we catch up to a runner who is walking as his new Inov-8 shoes are hurting his knees. He inquires whether the marathon ends at the next aid station, which is about mile 26.8. After several seconds laughing (well, maybe the laughter was faked) I inform him that both the marathon and the 50K are significantly longer than the traditional 26.2 and 31.1 mile distances, respectively.

Billabong Bob's Tiki Bar and Aid Station
(Photo by Hai Nguyen)
A Fine Finish
But soon enough we arrive at Billabong Bob's Tiki Bar and Aid Station at Riffleford Road (mile 26.8). Not only do I refill my bottle, but I have a Coke and when I hear that beer is available I have a cup of that as well.

Michele is volunteering at the aid station and I greet her.  I also remind her that I still owe her a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc for her act of kindness at last year's SCGT race. Rather than being angry at my tardiness, she thanks me for my memory.

After leaving the aid station it is less than a mile we reach the decision point to choose the distance.  I choose to go right onto Mink Hollow Trail, which leads to the 50K loop around Clopper Lake.  At one point I trip and fall. I do no damage, but laying on the ground feels pretty comfortable.  Staying there is no option, however, and I get to my feet and press on.

Eating Pringles while leaving the Tiki Bar
(Photo by Hai Nguyen)
I run a bit with a woman who tells me about running with her dogs, and the conversation somehow veers into a discussion of guns, as she is a trap and skeet shooter ("Even though I'm not so good at it," she says).  The man with the Inov-8 shoes catches us and passes us, even as he says he plans to throw the shoes away when he gets home.  Finishing the loop, we drop back onto the Greenway Trail (that section is also named the Long Draught Trail) for the last half mile, then make a sharp right up the hill to the finish line.

After getting a grilled hot dog and a Dogfish Head Indian Brown IPA in my finisher's glass, I head back to the finish line to await Gayatri.

And there I run into Don. He tells me that he was in the Portapotty when the race began, which explains why I did not see him at the start.  He tells me he saw me leaving the Tiki Bar as he was approaching, but was delayed when he stopped for beer after Michele told him that I had had some.

I go move the car closer to the finish while waiting for Gayatri, and go get another hot dog and a 60 Minute IPA to wash it down.

She finishes in 8:29:22, just 38 seconds under the official cut-off of 8:30.

My finishing time is 7:47:51, 126/156 overall, 76/94 of  males; 5/7 age group. I'm a couple of minutes faster than 2016, although the 2017 course may have been a half mile or more shorter. (Officially it was 31.8 miles.)

And the missing Jennifer? She had stayed in her car to keep warm before the start, mistimed it and had to run to the start line with the runners headed toward her.  I didn't see her then. Afterward, she said she saw me off the course contemplating a tree while she ran past.  She called out to me but I never heard her.  She finished in 7:03 and was long gone by the time I finished.

On Sunday I go to Total Wine and get the wine for Michele.
Swag: Beer glass, bib and discount alehouse coupon

Monday, March 6, 2017

Antelope Canyon 55K - February 25, 2017

We stayed at New York New York
Prologue - Las Vegas - T-3
After arriving in Las Vegas, Emaad and I, both first-timers to the city, settle into New York, New York, go for a walk on the Strip, get lunch and visit one of Sin City Brewing Company's location. Then back for a rest before heading out for the evening.

First stop is the dispensary. The Dispensary Lounge that is.  Anyway, without going into too much detail - since what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas - our evening involved, among what I can tell about, two Italians in fedoras, women dancing on bars, roulette, blackjack, beer, women attending a dialysis convention, grapefruit liquor shots, and other "ladies" asking if we wanted to "hang out." For the record, we did not.

Prologue - Zion National Park - T-2
A hearty breakfast of pancakes and bacon help restore equilibrium and we head out of Vegas. A trio of A-10 Warthogs cross overhead as we pass Nellis Air Force Base on I-15 headed to Zion National Park.

Zion Canyon
Zion is full of overwhelming natural beauty, a deep canyon reminiscent of Yosemite. Time prevents us from exploring the many hiking trails in the canyon, some of which climb toward the canyon rim. An occasional snow flake drifts down on us. Since it is off-season we are able to drive all the way to the Temple of Sinawava, where the canyon suddenly narrows and the road ends. From March 1 thru the fall the road is closed to vehicles and only accessible on a shuttle bus.

Weeping Rock - Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon
We drive out through the mile-long tunnel headed west to Kanab and then to Page.  We pass a couple of herds of grazing mule deer.  As the sun sets behind us it lights up the Vermilion Cliffs in front of us.

Arriving at the Lake Powell Resort in the evening we meet up with Barry, Rebecca and Sara. Sara and I are signed up for the 55K; the others are running the half marathon.

Prologue - Lower Antelope Canyon - T-1
Following a hearty breakfast (chorizo burrito and hash browns) at the Ranch House Grill  we head out to tour Lower Antelope Canyon.

While we are in Page to run the Antelope Canyon Ultras, the only race that goes through Antelope Canyon is the 50 miler, which runs through Upper Antelope Canyon, so a tour of the canyon is a must for us.

Access is only by guided tour and involves a descent down a steep series of stairs into the slot canyon.  Sara is deathly afraid of heights and tight places, and she balks at the descent.  The rest of us wait at the bottom while the guide calls for someone to return Sara to the entrance.
Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon
The mile walk through the canyon is spectacular. The walls swirl and show orange and red, light streams in from narrow slots above, everywhere are curves and bends.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon
Returning to the surface after climbing another ladder, Sara awaits, we go to packet pick up, meet George, a friend of Barry's who lives in Page, where he has been a journalist, cowboy, horse trainer and media consultant. The two haven't seen each other in 36 years.  George suggests we visit Horseshoe Bend which we do. Spectacular views down 1000 feet to the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

A late lunch (steak) and a light dinner (clam chowder and grilled cheese) end the day.

Sara and I at the 29 degree start
And Now It Begins
Saturday morning is cold - upper 20s for the 7 a.m. start for Sara and me. I'm bundled up with three shirts, two pairs of socks, gloves, tights, a buff and a pullover cap I bought at the expo.

Off we go, across the unpaved parking area, cross a couple of roads and head along a sandy trail toward the Slickrock Aid Station at mile 2.  The ruddy sand varies from a bit to beach deep.  That will be the story for a large portion of the day.  Sara reminds me several times that the course has 18 miles of sandy trails.

We pass through the aid station pretty quickly and descend some slickrock (a bit of a misnomer but maybe different if it were wet) between two mesas into a sandy (of course) dry wash.  That takes us to another mesa which which ascend run across the sand on top before descending the other side to an unpaved sandy road/trail.

In three miles we arrive at the Horseshoe Aid Station (mile 5). Sara and I have a drop bag here, as we will be returning to it at mile 18.  The sun has gotten higher and the temperature is rising, so I shed my outer shirt, and trade my pullover cap for a baseball cap. I switch my handheld bottle for my Nathan hydration pack.

Down the slickrock between the mesas at mile 2
Tent-like porta-potties at Horseshoe AS.
A bucket of wood shavings for 'flushing.'
The Rim of Glen Canyon
After filling the pack, eating some bacon and some other food, we cross route 89, duck between padded strands of a barbed wire fence and head toward Horseshoe Bend. In less than a mile we are at Horseshoe Bend. Everyone is stopped and taking pictures, but who can blame them.

On the rim at Horseshoe Bend, mile 6
Cactus near the rim of Glen Canyon
We run for more miles along the rim of Glen Canyon, mostly on rock, and sometimes closer to the edge than I'm comfortable with. I stop and remove one pair of my socks. After a couple of more bends in the river with great views, we head turn west, recross route 89 and arrive at the Waterholes Aid Station (mile 13).
Rock formation near the rim of Glen Canyon

Sara admires the Colorado River near Threemile Bar
Cactus and rock near the rim
Sara in Waterholes Canyon
Into Waterholes Canyon
Given Sara's reluctance - no, refusal - to go into Lower Antelope Canyon the previous day, I haven't said anything about what we are about to do.  As is my nature, I've looked at the course map, other maps and other resources and know what lies ahead. She does not need to know.

We leave the aid station and in a hundred yards or so we are on the edge of the descent into Waterholes Canyon.  It is a steep, careful descent down rocks and a narrow path, one that in many places I use all fours, or keep my but close to the ground.  We both pick our way down gingerly, making sure we have a firm foot placement before taking the next step.  But we reach the bottom safely and proceed up the canyon.

In general it is not as narrow as Lower Antelope Canyon and sometimes opens up into a sandy wash, albeit with reasonably high walls. At one point one of the leaders of the 50 mile race bounds past, leaping from rock to rock.

Me in Waterholes Canyon
Just as abruptly, the canyon narrows and there is a ladder that is the only way forward. At the top of the ladder one must duck an overhead rock, lean forward and shift left to get through.  In another place many of us either either need a push from behind or a hand from above to get up. Sara does well with both the descent and the narrow parts of the canyon but notes that it was good that she did not know about it in advance.

After about a mile we climb out of the canyon and follow a sandy road/path alongside a powerline back to the Horseshoe Aid Station (mile 18).  On the way I stop to empty sand from my shoe and sock.

From the aid station we retrace our route up the sandy trail, over the sandy mesa, along the sandy wash and through the pass between the next two mesas to the Slickrock aid station (mile 21).  We retrace the sandy trail (there is a theme here, as you might have noticed) back to the parking lot and then turn left and uphill to run around the Page Rim Trail.  I stop and sit on some rocks to empty out the sand again. I notice a pair of purple panties amongst the rocks and use two fingers to grasp a hem and toss it onto the trail, much to the amusement of oncoming runners.
Looking back into Waterholes Canyon
after exiting (about mile 14)
Sara runs the dry wash (mile 19)
heading to the pass between the mesas 
Lake Powell from the Rim Trail (mile 26)
Onto the Page Rim Trail
Getting onto Manson Mesa, which Page sits on, takes a bit of rock climbing, not the easiest thing after 23 miles, and even harder for the 50 milers, who are at mile 38 at this point.  But we get up it, check in at the Page Rim Aid Station (mile 23) and get running on the nice, single-track, mostly level red dirt - not sand! - trail. We are treated to fine view of the Colorado River, Navajo Mountain,  the mouth of Antelope Canyon where it joins the Colorado and even Lake Powell Resort and Marina on Wahweap Bay.

A short out and back takes us to  the Lake Powell Aid Station (mile 27.3) where Sara gets some unguent to rub on her aching hip. Her hip has been bothering her on and off for most of the day, and now it has pretty much reduced her to a slow run - slow enough that I can pretty much keep up with a fast walk.  Occasionally I run ahead a bit if I get talking with another runner, but then I slow or stop and wait for her.

As we circle to the west side of the mesa we get a nice vies of the Glen Canyon Dam. I run a bit with an Australian running the 50 miler.  He is running without a watch or GPS and just enjoying the day.  He tells me that there was some confusion as to the 50 mile course early in the day (and in the dark) and he ran a mile in the wrong direction (and a mile back) before getting on the right part of the course to Upper Antelope Canyon.

Sara and I quickly check in and out of our second pass at the Page Rim Aid Station (mile 33.5), carefully make our way down the lip of the mesa - down is scarier than going up - and head toward the finish.

Lake Powell Aid Station at mile 27.3
And that, appropriately enough, requires a run through some sand, than a climb up and down a sand dune, before rounding a small mesa to the finish.

We finish in 9:36:57.  My results are 168/226 overall, 104/118 males and 9/14 age-group.
We get our finishers flip-flops and ceramic cup and refuel with a Navajo taco before heading back to the resort to join up with Emaad, Barry and Rebecca, who ran the half marathon - basically the Page Rim Trail.  We get cleaned up and go out for Mexican food.

Sara and I at the finish. I'm holding the ceramic finisher's cup.
Swag: shirt, ceramic mug, flip-flops, bib
and hat (purchased)

Shirt reverse with runners' names spelling the distances
Epilogue - Grand Canyon and Las Vegas - T+1
We leave Page and head southwest toward the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, with Sara and Rebecca in Sara's car.  George has provided us with tips as to where to stop.  The Grand Canyon is beyond comprehension. Pictures do not do it justice, and even standing on the rim, it is hard to comprehend the size and grandeur of what your eyes see.

Grand Canyon from Desert View
Grand Canyon from Desert View
Desert View Watchtower
Emaad and I bid Rebecca and Sara good-bye as they head toward Scottsdale where Sara lives. We motor on to Las Vegas in time for dinner with his brother-in-law and to see Cirque du Soleil's KA show.