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.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

George Washington Birthday Marathon - February 19, 2017

Your Wish is Granted
Finally, a George Washington Birthday Marathon with pleasant weather.  In previous years, there have been winds that felt like fingernails from the Arctic raking one's face (2013), or weather so bad that the race was canceled (2014), or weather so very bad that the race was postponed a week AND then canceled after one loop because of Snowzilla (2015).

A five minute walk to the start
But 2017 was different. Sunny skies and a promise of temperatures approaching 70 degrees meant no need for Little Hotties in the shoes, multiple layers of shirts, gloves, tights or any of the other accouterments necessary to preserve warmth.

And the traditional 10 a.m. start means no need to get up early for the twenty-five minute drive to the start.

Jennifer picks me up around 9 a.m., we arrive in a timely manner, pick up our bibs and shirts, greet Caroline and her friends, and Mark and his colleague Kerry, and walk to the start.

The only decision I have to make is whether to carry a water bottle. With aid stations about every two miles or so (a total of ten on the three-loop course) I opt to not carry one. I stick gels in my pockets along with Succeed! salt tablets and we walk to the start.

I have a modest goal for the day - finish under five hours. I figure that a 2:20 / 2:40 split gets the job done.  While it is early in the year the course is generally flat, with only a significant downhill at mile one which is a significant uphill at mile 25.

Looking bad about mile 19
Jennifer and I run easily for the first loop. We watch a red-tailed hawk circle over the fields looking for a meal. I check our pace against the five hour pace band I'm wearing and am pleased to see that we are ahead of it. By mile 8 we are about five minutes to the good. We'll need that for the inevitable slowdown the second half. At the same time we don't want to go out too fast.

About eight and a half miles into the course, which runs on and around the USDA Agricultural Research Center, we pass Bio Control Road.  That launches us into a riff on other potential road names - "DDT Drive," "Round-Up Road," "Raid Road," "Daconil Drive," and "Agent Orange Avenue." Passing Entomology Road leads to more suggestions: "Ant Alley," "Wasp Way," "Cricket Circle," and "Roach Road."

During the second loop the sounds of gunfire from the Trap and Skeet Center south of the course increase. It's Sunday, so people may have attended church early and made it to the range by noon.

 We reach the half marathon mark in 2:13. It's right before the aid station at the turn from Beaver Dam Road onto Springfield Road. I tell Jennifer to go on and that once I'm done tweeting my progress I'll catch up with her.

Looking must better than I was at mile 24
(Photo by Hai Nguyen)
Be Careful What You Wish For
Try as I might I cannot catch her.  Gradually see pulls further and further ahead. She lingers a bit at the mile 15 aid station and I start to close the distance, but once she leaves the aid station the distance widens.

And I am not feeling strong.  The decision not to carry the water bottle is taking a toll.  Even though I'm drinking two or three cups of water or sports drink at each aid station, my mouth and tongue are parched within a very short while.  By mile 18 my pace has risen to over 12 minutes per mile and it only gets worse from there.

I run a bit with Mac M. along Beaver Dam Road around mile 19 and 20.  He is running a bit slowly today, partly due to the temperature, and partly due to his 4:15 marathon the week previous.

My pace continues to deteriorate, By mile 21 it is over 14 minutes per mile. Leaving the aid station at mile 22 (the same one as at miles 8 and 15), Mark and Kerry catch me.  I hang with them for about a mile, and on the long gentle uphill on Powder Mill Road they pull away.

Looking at my watch and the pace band tells me that I'm not going to finish under five hours.  I'm waking more than running.  At the bottom of the hill at mile 25 I begin the long walk up.  The sun is directly in my eyes and I try to shade them with my hand, while looking down at the double yellow lines. There's no traffic on Research Road so I don't need to worry about traffic.  Even after cresting the hill and heading downhill running isn't easy, and I walk a large part of it.  Finally, with the mile 26 marker in sight I try to push, if only to avoid the ignominy of a 20 minute mile.  I succeed, but only barely - 19:59 for the final mile.  That's slower than my normal walking pace.

I made it over the finish - barely.
(Photo by Raj Bhanot)
I cross the finish in 5:21:26, my worst marathon finish ever, and the first time since 2006 that I have gone over five hours. I drop into a chair as I doubt that I can walk back to the rec center without passing out.  Someone brings me a cup of water and that helps revive me.  Finally I feel good enough to head back and walk with Michelle R.  Her husband was texting her to see if she wanted to go to dinner with friends but she declines, citing not only the marathon but the 50K she ran the day before.

Jennifer, having finished in 4:50 (she perfectly executed the five hour plan with 2:23/2:27 splits!), is patiently waiting for me.  Mark and Kerry finish in 5:08, a big PR for her.

My 5:21:26 is good for 116/153 overall, 81/103 males, and a surprising-to-me, better than expected 10/18 in my age group. Apparently I was not the only person affected by the heat.

Swag: Shirt, Bib and
Combo GW Party Medal and Bottle Opener