Friday, December 31, 2021

Freight Train 50K - December 11, 2021

Caroline at the trail sign in Farmville

Friends You Can Rely On
Following my November run at the Pass Mountain 50K, I decide that I should finish the year with a December ultra.  I search around for something reasonably close to home and find the Freight Train 50K on December 11.  Emaad declines to join me but I sign up anyway.  Prolific ultramarathoner and friend Caroline lives in Virginia and might be interested so I send her an email.  Within minutes she responds that she is now signed up.  Further email exchanges confirms that I will drive down the day before but that she will drive down on Saturday morning.

Weather or Not
Caroline and I at the start
December weather can be fickle. Fortunately, weather at race time Saturday is mild, with temperatures in the 50s with some wind. But good weather may not be the day's entire forecast - there is a front on the way with rain and dropping temperatures called for in the afternoon.  The issue will be when the front arrives and when we finish.

Let's Run
Start time is a very convenient 8:30 a.m. The 100K runners started at 7:30 to get ahead start on their day. Cut-off times are very generous - 17. 5 hours for the 100K runners, 16.6 hours for the 50K, particularly given the course.  The race is held entirely on the High Bridge Trail State Park. The trail is a 31-mile long rails-to-trails on a former Norfolk Southern right-of-way with a few very gentle grades, a well-maintained 10-foot wide packed dirt surface and the main attraction, High Bridge, which is more than 2,400 feet long and 125 feet above the Appomattox River.  The right of way was originally the South Side Railroad, which played an important role in the Civil War, as you will soon see.

Caroline and I trade texts and meet up at my car, parked across the street from the start-finish.  This is one of the great benefits of the usually-small ultra races, where small fields are the rule rather than the  exception. There will be 33 100K finishers and 137 50K finishers today.   She eats a donut that I brought for us and we cross to the start finish area.

The start-finish at the Farmville Farmers' Market
The race is a double out-and-back on the trail from Farmville, first running 8.2 miles to an aid station at Rice before returning to Farmville, then heading west for about 7.5 miles to a turnaround about a mile and three-quarters past the aid station at Tuggle and retracing our path back to Farmville.  The 100K runners go further on each leg, basically covering the 31 miles of the trail twice for their 100K.

Caroline heads across High Bridge
I search for a place in the Farmville Farmers' Market shed to leave my drop bag and put it down amongst some of the other bags. It has more than enough items, including long and short sleeve shirts, socks, trail shoes (in case I found the surface too hard for my road shoes), the rest of the donuts, gels, and random odds and ends.

Crossing High Bridge
The Way to Rice
After the National Anthem, we are off promptly at 8:30. Caroline seemingly knows every other runner and greets them all warmly.  We mostly run together and are always in sight of each other. We chat with other runners, and in a couple of miles come to High Bridge.  The bridge was the scene of hard fighting on April 6, 1865, as Union troops tried unsuccessfully to burn the bridge so that Robert E. Lee's retreating army could not get across it. They were repulsed and the following day, the Confederates tried to burn the bridge so that the Union army could not follow.  Union troops saved the bridge and the wagon bridge below High Bridge from destruction and the Union army was able to continue its pursuit.

Railroad Mile Marker
I run awhile with Caroline's friend Yancy and we discuss the action and other parts of the Appomattox Campaign.  After crossing the bridge we pass Camp Paradise, a Confederate earthworks formation built to protect the bridge and the scene of hard fighting on April 6.

We get to Rice, refuel at the aid station and head back toward Farmville.  The wind is picking up and crossing High Bridge I have to hang on to my hat.

Who Moved My Bag?
Back at Farmville (mile 16.4) I eat a slice of pizza and head for my drop bag.  I can't find it. I as a volunteer and tell him where I left it.  He points to a paper sign on the wall that tells me I left it in the pile of drop bags that was being transported, mostly for 100K runners, to the Tuggle aid station, 5.7 miles further down the road.  I'm chagrined, but at least the bag is ahead.  Still, I'm unable to replenish my gels or change my shirt as I planned.

Caroline plays among the hay rolls
On to Tuggle and Beyond
Caroline and I go on, talking about serious and light subjects. A couple hundred yards from the start-finish we pass the Farmville train station, where on April 7, 1865, Lee's army received supplies before Union troops arrived and the Confederates moved north. General Grant arrived later in the day and sent a letter to Lee asking him to surrender his army.

True dat - especially at mile 8
We run - and walk - along the trail.  It is a pleasant run, and unlike so many of the usual trail runs I'm used to, it is pretty easy. There are no steep climbs, no rocks or roots, no stream crossings.  One can run and look around, without worrying that a moment's inattention will bring one crashing to the ground.  And since it is December, the leaves are off the trees on either side and one can see the farmland and woods beyond the trail.

We reach the aid station at Tuggle (mile 22.1) and I open my bag to do what I had wanted to do at Farmville.  There is a road parallel to the road and I realize that this must have been the road that Sheridan's cavalry, under George Armstrong Custer's command took to get to Appomattox Station ahead of Lee on April 7-8, closely followed by Edward Ord's infantry, cutting off Lee's route of retreat and leading to Lee's surrender on April 9.

On we go from Tuggle until we come to a folding chair in the middle of the trail. It has a sign attached to it instructing 50K runners to turn around and 100K runners to go on.

The turnaround
We turn around and return to the Tuggle aid station (now mile 25.4) and continue back toward Farmville.

Now the wind is picking up again and low ragged clouds are racing ahead of us from the west. We catch up to a runner who is mostly walking. It's his first 50K and our chatter and companionship lifts his spirits and he begins to run with us.  

With about a mile or so to go I glance at my watch and figure that I may have a chance to finish in 7:30.  "The horse smells the barn," I tell Caroline and our new trail friend and I take off.  While I don't say it, I'm also increasingly concerned that the dark clouds behind us are moving faster than we are. Not exactly a sprint, but I'm determined that I will run and not take walk breaks.  But after a mile and with the train station in sight, I realize that I'm not going to make 7:30. And perhaps the reason is that, recalling the race instructions, is that the course is described as "a bit more than 50K".  

I finish in 7:37:09, good for 98 of 137 finishers, 59 of 74 males and 1 of 3 in my 70-79 age group.  And I'm not close to being the oldest. Besides the two other older runners in my AG there is a 81-year old finisher. Caroline is close behind me in 7:37:45.

The truth
After a post-race slice of pizza, and some fellowship with more runners whom Caroline knows, we walk to my car where I give her a couple of holiday-decorated cupcakes for the ride home.  I eat one myself before driving to Tuggle to reclaim my drop bag.

I'm not out of Farmville when the rain starts.  By the time I reach Tuggle, it is pouring and the wind is blowing it at an angle.  A pair of runners pass through the parking lot.  I finally get out of the car but an  umbrella offers limited protection. I get my bag which is sitting out in the open. The good news is that it has a rubberized bottom to protect the contents from wet ground. More good news is that I put the contents in a trash bag to protect against this very situation.  Unfortunately, I did not fold the top of the trash bag over the last time I accessed it and the contents are wet from rain through the zippered top. On the positive side, the extra shoes were in a separate plastic bag and they are dry.

I drive to The Fishin' Pig south of Farmville for pulled pork, fried catfish, homemade slaw and collards. Too much to finish, so the pork and slaw go home with me.

Swag: hooded shirt, ornament, sticker
and bib

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Pass Mountain 50K - November 13, 2021


The night before the Pass Mountain 50K, I cannot sleep.  I'm worried about the weather for the race, specifically, the forecast for higher than normal temperatures.  I have a history of not coping well with hot conditions.  In June, I dropped out of Ran It with Janet 50K partly due to the 90 degree heat.  In February, 2020, I dropped from Elephant Mountain 50K, at least in part due to the heat. 

Cathy and Emaad choose another way at
Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Earlier on Friday Emaad and I meet our friend Cathy at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior. She is a member and an enthusiastic gardener, and she treats us to an hour long guided tour of the main trail at the arboretum. The shaded portions are pleasant, but I feel the heat when we are in unshaded parts of the walk. 

Even though I have a plan to deal with the heat, I spend a troubled night, never quite being able to sleep for any length of time.  No need for the alarm; I'm awake and up well before I have to be.

First Loop

The course consists of two loops around Pass Mountain.  From the race website, it looks relatively flat, with most of the 2500 feet of ascent in the two climbs from the second aid station (mile 6.8 of each loop) and the passage at Bulldog Saddle at the top of the trail.  And that climb is followed by a nice four mile descent back to the start finish area. Since we did over 3000 feet of climb at Boulder Field 50K, this doesn't sound at all bad.  And it is in the desert, so no roots to contend with or trip over. Maybe just a few rocks.

The race starts at 7 o'clock sharp. The 58 entrants in the 50K head out onto the smooth dirt of the trail.  Emaad and I are toward the rear and as usual we chat with the runners around us.  We don't push the pace, but don't go too slowly either, figuring that the more miles we can log while the sun is still low (sunrise was 6:56 a.m.) and the temperatures down, the better off we will be later in the day.

Emaad runs into the sun on the levee (mile 3)

The course rolls just a bit for the first couple of miles, then turns onto a levee built to protect a neighborhood on the edge of the park for flash floods. We get through the eponymously named Levee aid station (mile 3.8) in 44 minutes, get back on the levee and continue for a bit more before the trail leaves it for more generally flat track to the next aid station at mile 6.8.

From here it is 8.6 miles back to the start-finish.  I make sure that my hydration pack is filled to its 1.5 liter capacity. Fellow runner David, who is using trekking poles and has run the race previously, gives us a brief on what to expect ahead.

The course heads up gently, between the Cat Hills, then along a bit of gently rolling, but rocky, trail running to the east.  We chat with a couple of women runners about the difference of running in the East and the West.  A hiker wearing a sidearm passes us going the opposite direction. (Protection against snakes? Loaded with snake shot? Protection from other wildlife?) We are in a different culture here.

Looking toward Pass Mountain from the south (mile 4)

The trail turns northward and upward, but the rocks do not end.  The trail is rockier that I had anticipated and it makes running difficult. Up we go. Since this is the desert one can see the runners - actually mostly walkers - on the trial ahead and above.

Finally we come to a switchback that is just solid rock and steeply upward.  This is the point that David told us would mark the final ascent to Bulldog Saddle. Just before we reach the top we come upon a pair of mountain bikers preparing to descend that stretch.  It seems to be an ill-advised and particularly risky idea but we go on leaving them to their effort. We see them later in the day unscathed.

Cresting the saddle, we now have four miles and 700 feet of descent to the end of the first loop.  It should be a place to make up time.  Emaad takes off.  But I proceed slowly.  As I've gotten older, downhills have become troubling - I am becoming increasingly afraid of falling and am losing confidence in my ability to bound down them.  The trail is still rocky, and there is nothing be a steep slope on one side. A misstep, slip or stumble in the wrong direction and it will be a slide down a rocky, cactus slope for who knows how far. Adding to the concern, portions of the trail are eroded, further narrowing the path.

Headed toward Bulldog Saddle

I go on, unconfident of the trail, but confident that I'll make the four and a half hour cutoff at the end of the first loop.

Second Loop

Emaad is waiting for my at our drop bags.  The day is now hot, and the portapotty that I use is sweltering.  I change shirts, fill the hydration pack and grab my handheld water bottle.  My plan is to use the water in the hydration pack for drinking and the water in the handheld for cooling, pouring it on the cooling towel I have around my neck.

We cross the mat to start the second loop in 4:11.  This gives us officially 4:49 to run the second loop to finish under the official nine hour cutoff. But we not particularly concerned about that, knowing that the 50 milers on a somewhat differ course will still be out there later than us.

We have barely gone a few hundred yards than we come across a runner sitting by the side of the trail. He says he is OK but has decided to call it a day.  A bit further along we come across another runner walking back toward the start-finish.  He, too, tells us that he is calling it a day.

By now we are pretty much alone. I want to run, but Emaad urges that we go easy, as the time is approaching noon, the sun is high, there is no shade, the day has become hot and we still have a long way to go.  It's good advice.  We mostly walk, or walk and run.

We spy a runner ahead, mostly walking and talking on her phone.  When she is done with her call we fall in with her and the three of us proceed together sharing stories.  It turns out that she had run the 2019 DC North Face Endurance Challenge 50K, the same race at which Emaad and I had run a bit with ultralegend Dean Karnazes.

She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, and is interested in international humanitarian efforts.  I tell her that I know someone who works at the Agency for International Development and that if she wants I can put her in touch with him.  In an only-in-DC moment I tell her that I happen to have one of my business cards in the rear outside pocket of my hydration pack (how many other trail runners carry their business cards with them?) and that she is free to take a picture of it so that she can contact me later.  I had the business card with me because I had written the race emergency number on it in case I needed it on the trail. But still . . .  a business card?

She is talking about dropping at the Levee aid station, but we and the aid station workers talk her into going on. At one point Emaad and I get a bit ahead of her and exchange concern about her.  We wait and she catches up with us and assures us that she is fine, but is going to drop out at the Meridian aid station (mile 22.2). She has to get to CVS in time to get a COVID test as she is flying to Germany on Monday.

As we approach the aid station, a volunteer meets us.  He, too, tries to talk her out of dropping, but her mind is made up.  She calls one of her friends (one dropped, one finished) to come pick her up.  

Emaad has gone on ahead, and calls back to me to pick up his handheld, as he left it behind.  I do, and after a couple of hundred yards I curse myself, because in getting his I left my behind.  I turn back to get it. A volunteer sees me coming back and realizes what I had done, and brings it out to meet me, saving me precious steps.

Now we are alone and the day is hot.  We have been over this ground before, but somehow it seems longer, probably because we are going slower. (On the first loop we did the 6.8 mile distance from the start to the Meridian aid station in 1:27. It took 2:00 on the second loop.)

I'm keeping my cooling towel wet with water from the handheld. But the upward climb seems endless.  With no runners (or even hikers for that matter) on the trail ahead, it is hard to know where the saddle is.  All I see is mountainside, with no obvious way over.

But eventually we reach the "just rocks" part, and partially on all fours, I crest Bulldog Saddle.

Looking to the north from the Pass Mountain trail (mile 29)

As on the first loop, Emaad takes off downhill and I trudge downward. At least now this side of the mountain is partially in the shade. A good thing too, as I'm starting to ration both my drinking water in the hydration pack and the cooling water in the handheld.

About a mile down the trail I come upon Curtis, a runner who, it turns out, had been thru the Meridian aid station 18 minutes ahead of us.  He is not looking well.  I offer him a salt tablet, and I take my last one.  Then I go on, but keep looking back to see how he is doing.  He is moving forward, so I figure he will be OK. 

I've run out of water in my handheld, so I use water from my pack to wet my cooling cloth.  But than causes me to even further cut back on what I drink.  I try a trick from Emaad - take a sip and swish it in your mouth for awhile before swallowing.  Anything to make the water last.

With about a mile left, first one leg, and then the other starts to cramp. I use a nearby bench to press back and stretch.  Somewhat successfully, I resume moving.  But then I start to get lightheaded and stop on a rock to put my head down. The cramping resumes. I start to wonder if it is time to get out the business card to dial the emergency number.  But both the dizziness and cramping subside.  On I go. But I'm out of water.

I ask a runner headed in the opposite direction if he has a gel, forgetting the I have two on me.  He doesn't.  A bit later I cross paths with a mountain biker.  He asks if I'm OK, and when I hesitate, he asks if I want some water. He pours some, including some ice, from his hydration pack into my bottle. The cold water is refreshing, both inside and out.

Live Results Screenshot
And in a bit I pass the parking lot by the Wind Cave trailhead ("the false finish" as one runner described it on the first loop) and travel the half mile or so to the finish.  I cross the line and plunk down in a chair.  One of the finish line workers gives me my finisher's award and gets me something to drink and a snack.  Emaad, who finished 20 minutes ahead of me, comes over.  He tells me that he vomited after finishing, and one of the medical staff checked on him. 

Curtis comes in 20 minutes behind me.

Finisher or Not?

The live tracking shows that I finished in 9:29:47, 37th overall, and 24th male. I was the oldest finisher by five years.  Emaad finished in 9:09:33. Curtis was the only finisher behind me.

The temperature tops out at 88 degrees, ten degrees above the normal high for November 13 in Mesa. It takes a toll on the runners. Only 38 of the original 58 starters will be recorded as finishers, an attrition rate of 35 percent.  This is far above the attrition rate for the previous three Pass Mountain 50Ks, where the rates were 15, 13, and 14 percent, respectively.

When the results are posted to Ultrasignup, we three are all listed as DNFs. We went from finishers to non-finishers. 

At the Finish
Although we didn't make the announced nine hour cutoff, this DNF does not set will with me.  I email the race director, pointing out that at "the 2020 Elephant Mountain 50K [a race put on by the same company], 16 finishers who did not meet the 8-hour cutoff were recorded as finishers, including four who were over nine hours.  Just like Pass Mountain this year, that race had its inaugural 50 miler" so there were still runners out on the course when we finished. I ask that he include me, Emaad, Curtis and a fourth runner who was also over the nine hour cutoff.  Emaad also sends an email.

We get no response for eight days, so I write again. The race director responds to Emaad and I agreeing to do so, although not without a bit of a backhand:  "because you seem so passionate about receiving a finish for a race that you finished over the official cutoff, we will allow your result to be posted."  But he doesn't do so for Curtis who remains a DNF. On the other hand, while not telling us, he moves a 50-mile finisher from a reported "did not finish under the cutoff" to an official finisher.  

We didn't make the cutoff. If, at finish I was told that I was a DNF I would have accepted that. But the company ignored the cutoff for another one of its races, so consistency is expected. Once you tell me I'm a finisher and give me a finisher's medal, you do not get to unfinish me. (And at my age, I need all the finishes I can get.)

Swag: Shirt, Bib and

Friday, November 5, 2021

Philadelphia Trail Marathon - October 16, 2021

Even modest victories have a price

Agility I

Preparing my gear late Friday night before the race I realize that I had not brought a handheld bottle. And since the aid stations are conveniently close to one another, I hadn't brought my Nathan pack.  Two alternatives are possible. First, run without hydration and rely on the aid stations. It's possible but the day promises some unseasonably temperatures in the upper 70s and gulping liquids every few miles and then running without does not seem like a good plan.  Second, Emaad's cousin, whose home we are staying at, offers a couple of small 6-ounce bottles of water.  Better than the first alternative I decide, and I take them.

Getting in the car Saturday morning for the drive to the race, I spot a wide-mouth empty16-ounce bottle from an iced tea I bought on the drive from Maryland.  It's ridged, which will improve the grip and it has a wide mouth, which will make refilling easy.  I pour the water from the smaller bottles into it and I'm ready to race.

Agilty II

It's not an Uberendurance event 
without Uber Hans and his accordion.
Last year's inaugural Philadelphia Trail Marathon was a virtual event due to the pandemic.  The 2021 version was scheduled to be in Wissahickon Park but the passage of the remnants of Hurricane Ida on September 1 did extensive damage to the trails and park management told the race director that he would not be able to use them. 

With barely six weeks to race day, Stephan Weiss, the Uberendurance Sports race director, arranged to move the race to Pennypack Park, where he puts on several other races. Not only does he move the race, but he has to figure out a course.

With great agility he does so, although the last minute maneuvering means he cannot provide a trial map in advance, only assuring runners that it would be two loops, and that half of the course would use trails used in the Dirty German (my 2019 report here) and half would be new trails. And he promises five aid stations per loop, and a total of eleven for the marathoners.

Fly and Die

We know the Pennypack drill: park on the street, make a very short walk to the pavilion, get our bibs and shirt, stash our drop bag, listen to Uber Hans play his accordion, eye the other runners. Aa couple of minutes before 8 a.m. Hans plays the National Anthem on his squeeze box, Stephan calls the runners to the start line and we are off.

Emaad follows other runners early in the race

The beginning of the race follows the Pennypack Trailfest course, which we ran in 2019.  The single track is pretty crowded so it is a chance for some walking and easy running - a perfect way to ease into the day.

Soon enough the field starts to stretch out, and parts of the course are wide enough to permit faster runners to move ahead.  Emaad and I settle into a nice rhythm, not too fast, but definitely quicker than usual.

After a few miles I'm still feeling good. Lacking impulse control, I tell him that I'm going to go on.  I know exactly what I'm doing and it is something I haven't done in several years.  It's fly and die time - run as fast as you can for as long as you can and hope that the finish is close enough when you run out of fuel and crash.  It is a terrible strategy, but it can be fun while it lasts.  Then it gets ugly.  And you never know when the fly part will end, adding to the excitement.  It's Russian roulette in trail shoes.

Running with several other runners, we pass a pair of mountain bikers on the side of a single track trail built with bikers in mind, with log jumps and plenty of twists and turns. One has thrown his chain and is fixing it. Soon they are back on the path and politely pass us as we all head downhill.


Still flying in the second loop.

About three quarters of the way through the first loop I decide to set some goals for the day.  I rarely set them before the race: "just want to finish" is my usual response.  But once I get going goals help to motivate me.

So I set five: finish the first loop before anyone in the half marathon (starting an hour later) passes me; finish the first loop before the leader of the marathon finishes; finish the first loop under 3 hours; finish the marathon under 6 hours; finish the marathon under 6:30.

The first goal gets blown away with miles remaining in the first loop. And then again. And again. Ultimately nine half marathoners will finish their race before I get to the end of the loop, even with an hour headstart.

But I don't notice anyone with a marathon bib pass me as I approach the start finish line.  One goal accomplished.

I cross the  line at the end of the first loop in 2:45! I change my shirt and head out on the second loop. Still flying! And I start thinking that 6 hours is definitely in play.  I can slow down by half an hour on the second loop and still make it.

Awhile into the loop my GPS reads barely 13 miles.  That's odd, since the first loop, a half marathon should have been 13.1 miles.  Maybe that explains the speedy - for me - first loop.  But no matter. Stephan had to put a course together quickly and did.  In trail runs, the distance is what the race director says it its.  And woe to those who insist that the distance isn't what the race director says.  The founder and race director of the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K added a "spite mile" the next year after fielding complaints that the course was longer than the advertised distance. (For the record my GPS logs 24,8 miles.  It is what it is. You still have to go from the start to the finish.)  

Trail next to Pennypack Creek (mile 18.5)

Catching up with a pair of runners I channel the Blues Brothers: "It's eight miles to the finish, I have half a bottle of water, two gels, and I'm wearing sunglasses. Let's hit it." One runner, missing the reference, helpfully offers a gel and says the next aid station is near. The other runner gets it. (Yes, the movie is 41 years old and I'm showing my age with the reference, but it's a classic. Right?)

Bees? What bees?

A runner asks me if I'd been stung. No, I reply, a bit puzzled by the question,  She tells me she had been stung seven times. Apparently there is a yellow jacket nest on the trail and the residents have taken offense at the disruption caused be the runners. They have taken to attacking them, and since they are yellow jackets and not bees, can sting multiple times. (Emaad will report being stung five times, from his ankle to his thumb.)

A course marshal also warns of the hazard on the second loop and says to stay to the left of a white-topped can he has placed near the nest.  When I get to the spot, I heed his advice and remain unstung.

Crash and Burn

Crossing Bridge over Pennypack Creek (mile 7) 

I'm well into the second loop, about mile 16, and moving along well. The plane is flying smooth and level. All is going smoothly.

Until it isn't. I catch a foot and head toward the ground.  There is a rock sticking up toward me as I go down, and I stretch out to avoid catching it with my ribs.  I succeed, but the cost is a scraped up right knee and right forearm.  Blood runs down the knee. I examine what has happened and don't feel any significant problems with the knee or the arm.  The damage is superficial and I am able to go on.

But the fall has taken the "fly" out of me.  There is an aid station a little bit ahead and I use wipes meant for cleaning surfaces to clean the scrapes.  I decline the offer of water to wipe off the dried blood that has reached to my sock, figuring to wear it as a badge of  honor.


On I go, no longer flying high. Physically I don't feel bad, but the fight is out of me.  Through the mountain biker trail loop, along the relatively flat stretch along the north side of Pennypack Creek and back to the aid station. Continue on the gently rolling single track of the southernmost loop, under the overpass at Bustleton Avenue and on to the aid station under Krewstown Road at about mile 20.5. Then over the bridge to the other side of the creek.  This section of the trail is about 2.5 miles along the creek and the trail is frequently double wide with few rocks and roots.

I start running with Amy, a runner doing her first trail marathon.  Having someone to run with starts to recharge my mental battery.  A peek at the GPS get me thinking that maybe 6 hours is still in play.  And having a new running friend means I get to tell my old stories to fresh ears.

As we come to the final aid station (mile 23.5) I yell out, "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses." Sure enough, a bottle appears and a shot appears.  I beg off, as I'm back to aiming at the 6 hour goal.  But I do accept half a brew.  Gotta hydrate for the final push.

Amy and I go on. I'm glancing at my watch more and more, but the time is slipping away.  I finally urge Amy on, telling her I think she still has a shot at breaking 6. She takes off and is quickly out of sight.

My new goal now is 6:15.  Cross the bridge over the feeder stream to Pennypack Park, up the trail to the sidewalk alongside Pine Road, swing around walkers, cross over Pennypack Creek, left onto the field leading to the finish, toss away my reliable substitute water bottle and cross the finish line in 6:06:25.

Getting cleaned up by Philly's bravest.
(Photo by E. Burki)
Agility III

I collect my plastic finisher's medal, and am awarded a trophy for finishing first in my age group (I beat the other person in it by 64 minutes, but he is the oldest finisher.)  There is a medic unit parked at the finish and they clean up my wounds and bandage my knee.  No need to risk necrotizing fasciitis, my current irrational fear associated with trail running. (My other two fears are not irrational: ticks and poison ivy.)

In a post-race email Stephan explains the plastic medal: "We had ordered medals in the spring, but unfortunately they are currently stuck on one of these container ships outside of LA. . . . we then worked with a local artist to have wooden medals made just in time for the race. Unfortunately their equipment broke down and they were not able to produce them either, so this acrylic medal was the last option . . . and we had them shipped next day air just in time for the race." 


I finish in 6:06:25, good for 99/114 overall, 67/76 males and 1/2 in the 70+ age group.  Amy finishes in 6:05:19 and is kind enough to take the picture of me at the top of this post.  Emaad, with his five stings, finishes in 6:19:57.

Swag: Quarter zip, medal, bib
and AG trophy

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Boulder Field 50K - September 11, 2021

Boulder Field

Still Funny After All Those Times

Emaad and I at the start
"That's a dad joke!" the runner says after I tell the same joke for the third time to passing runners.  "No," I reply, "that's a granddad joke."

Emaad is about ready to throttle me and we have only gone a few miles at the Boulder Field 50K. Each time we are passed by another group of runners I can't help but tell a joke that my grandson loves: "Why should you never run behind a car?"  But I can't help myself.  It's too good not to tell runners.

We started out with perfect weather that will persist the entire day.  Trail conditions are not perfect, however.  The remnants of Hurricane Ida dropped a significant amount of rain on Hickory Run State Park two weeks earlier and rain on Wednesday has left parts of the course wet.

And "wet" means that a half mile of gentle uphill around mile two means there is water slowly running down the single track of the trail. Some of the areas at the bottom of descents are boggy.  It isn't really a question of if you will step in muddy water, but when.  Just embrace the inner child and splash through.  

Since the course is a figure eight we return to the start/finish at mile 12 and can change socks and shoes for the 18 mile second part.  "Don't bother," a runner who has run the race previously says, "the second loop will be wet."

Hickory Run

Hickory Run with AS 1 and 2 on far side

After about five miles of up and down, we come to the Hickory Run crossing. Normally it would be on a wooden bridge, but Ida ripped the railings off the bridge and the park ranger has required that it be taped off with yellow caution tape.  Crossing means splashing through the knee deep stream.  The water is a bit cool, but it washes the mud off.

The first aid station (mile 5.1) is set up on the far side of the creek and the volunteers are frying bacon and making grilled cheese sandwiches, cut into quarters, along with having the usual cookies and other things junk food so loved by trial runners.  Because of the pandemic, many of the items are pre-wrapped individual servings and the cooked items are set (mostly) in individual serving cups.  I pry a grilled cheese open and stuff bacon into it and walk on.  Emaad, still at the aid station calls me back, as I've headed in the wrong direction.

Trail Etiquette

"On your left," I say, the universal trail request that the slower runner ahead move to the right so someone can pass. On single track that may mean stepping off the trail briefly, or waiting for a place where one can move over.

But I'm surprised when the response is a snapped, ""I'm over as far as I'm going." I hold me sometimes hair trigger temper in check and maneuver around without saying anything.  Emaad later tells me that the runner said the same thing to others who were trying to pass.  It's a rare trail runner who is impolite, so this is a first.  We will pay it back - in an appropriate way - hours later.

Lehigh River Valley Overlook View (Mile 8)

Trudging up a steep trail, I remark to a nearby runner that I'm going so slowly, that my GPS device no longer shows any pace for me.  It's because the GPS only measures horizontal progress, he says, and ignores the vertical gain.

The Best Aid Station

Finishing the loop back to aid station 1 (aka aid station 2 (mile 9.9) approached from the opposite direction) there is a steep downhill with several switchbacks.  As I've gotten older, all but the most gentle downhills, and pretty much any technical ones have started to become a greater concern and I am going slower and slower on them.  I fear tumbling down them or worse still, imagine myself going over the edge and rolling down the incline.  What used to be the mantra of walk the uphills and run the flats and downhills is now walk the uphills and downhills and run the flats. The survival instinct has overcome the competitive instinct.  

Grilled cheese, bacon and fried potatoes at AS2

A short stretch on an unpaved park road takes us back to the first aid station. As an additional treat the volunteers are now frying potatoes in the bacon grease! I tell them that this is a better aid station than the first one. Puzzled, they point out that it is the same one. "But now there are potatoes cooked in bacon fat!" I point out. "The first station didn't have that."

Several runners decide that they will navigate the railingless foot bridge across the creek. And I follow suit.  After going a few hundred yards I realize that I left my water bottle at the aid station and have to backtrack to get it.  The aid station workers offer some more bacon which I willingly accept. Yup, the best aid station.

That says it all.
Shades of Death

In a short bit we are on the Shades of Death Trail, following a stream uphill.  The trail is very rocky - more rock than dirt - but it is along a stream and takes us to a picturesque waterfall.  We briefly lose the trail, but the course has been well marked and we spot a pink ribbon where we should be and reroute to it.  In a bit we are done with the Shades of Death and reach aid station 3 (mile 12.5) at the start finish.

The highlight of Shades of Death Trail

Emaad changes shoes, I change my shirt and use the facilities and we head out for the second part of the course. 

More Rocks, More Roots, More Water

We skirt Sand Spring Lake, follow the course through a disk golf course and a campground, and are back on a trail. And like most of the trails, it consists of rocks and roots, and in places, running water or mud.  This part of the course has less elevation change (two-thirds of the elevation change is in the first 12 mile loop) but no less technical trails.  We push on, looking for Aid Station 4 which my cheat sheet says we should have reached and cross under the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Finally, over a mile beyond where I had thought it would be, is the aid station.

Or Maybe the Best Aid Station

Approaching the aid station (mile 16.5) on the Stage Coach Road I call out to the volunteers, "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses!" It's the right thing to say, as the volunteers swiftly produce a can of Montana 1 IPA that is shared (in individual cups, of course) amongst us. What is a beer from western Montana doing in the middle of Pennsylvania? We get the story - it involves a cross country trip - and after giving thanks, we are on our way down the Stage Coach Road, but just for a bit and soon turn off onto the rocky and rooty (well, that was no surprise) trail to head toward the Boulder Field.

Rocks, roots and trees most of the day

Boulder Field

And in a few miles, and more rocks and roots we reach the Boulder Field. Surprisingly, hopping from boulder to boulder is easier that dealing with all the smaller rocks on the trail.  We refuel at the aid station (mile 19.3) on the far side of the field and head off onto the aptly named Stone Trail. More rocks, fewer roots, more water. And from there onto the Boundary Trail - straight, and full of rocks and roots. 

We cross Fourth Run, where stones allow us to mostly keep our feet dry. The double track dirt road is pretty runnable but we are in no hurry. I've computed that any chance we had of finishing in under 9 hours has pretty much evaporated given the time and distance remaining.  We pass a pair of runners and then one of them passes us back.  It's rare in a race with less than 200 runners to pass someone 20 miles in. 

Lions of the Serengeti

Something in being repassed stirs me.  I tell Emaad that we will run a minute and walk a minute.  After all, we have been doing a lot of walking, and the mild weather has not been sapping.  We run and pass the runner.  We walk and don't get caught.  We run again. And repeat.

The course goes downhill gently and then heads under the Pennsylvania Turnpike through a tunnel carrying Fourth Run.  There is enough water in the stream that keeping dry is not an option, but it is only a few inches deep.  The other side is a continuation of the unpaved double track road and we keep to our new routine.

We see a couple more runners ahead.  It's been years since I've had the feeling, but I'm ready to play the mind game "lions of the Serengeti."  I'm a lion and the runners ahead are antelope.  I'm going to hunt them down.  It may take awhile but I'm a patient lion.  Each step, every passing minute brings me closer.  And when I have caught up, the lion has conquered the antelope. 

Now, up ahead, we spy a single runner.  We recognize the runner would not not step aside earlier in the day. Now that runner is prey for the lions.  It is wide here and no need to ask permission or offer apology for passing.  Normally I would have a chatty word for a fellow runner.  Not this one. We pass the runner without a word or a glance.

Game On

We reach the sixth and final aid station (mile 24.6) a mile sooner than I expect.  The volunteers are cheerful and encouraging, telling us that we only have five miles to go. I'm a bit confused as I thought we should have six miles to go. And then I remember what I was told earlier - GPS geometry. All the ascending and descending has the GPS reading short.

And so if we want to be under nine hours we have about 90 minutes to go five miles, not six miles. (The GPS will claim it was 5.9 miles). That is a world of difference.  We feel good, we have a grassy trail along a powerline cut ahead, some rocks and roots and then paved park roads to go.  It's doable. I have a goal.

I share my enthusiasm with Emaad.  He's game but his knee is starting to bother.  We go on together for a bit and then I tell him that I'm going ahead. No more one minute on and one minute off, it's just go as long as I can before taking a break.  Even the technical sections and uphills are met with power walking.  There is a steep downhill with switchbacks that do get my respect and attention.

There is a road at the bottom.  I look in vain for ribbons and see none and a note of panic starts to creep in.  But I look down and there are white chalk arrows on the ground to point the way.

I haven't gone far and a runner catches up to me.  It's the leader of the 100K which started two hours earlier than the 50K.  We exchange greetings and just past me he starts walking the uphill.  The lion within is aroused and I pass him back.  My lead lasts for a few yards until he resumes running, passes me and is soon out of sight. Sometimes the lion is taken be a stronger lion.

I've very confident that nine hours is well in hand, unless I get off course.  And now along the road to the finish I search frantically for pink ribbons, terrified that I'll miss a turn.  I slow down, weave into the road to be able to see further down, scan the woods for trails and ribbons in case I should have turned.

But it is unnecessary.  I'm on course and the finish is in sight.  I cross in 8:42:43. I'm DFL in my age group, but since I'm the only one in my age group, I'm also first. Emaad finishes five minutes behind.

Finish in 8:42:43
(Photo by Daniel Govern)

Punch Line

Oh yeah, why should you never run behind a car?

Because you will get exhausted.

By the Numbers

Overall, I was 147 of 169 finishers (202 registered yielding 33 DNS/DNFs),  99 of 108 males, and the only one in my age group. My overall pace was 17:07 minutes/mile, but I ran the last 5.3 miles from the final aid station at a 14:33 pace, just a bit slower than my pace for the first 5.1 miles from the start to the first aid station. And the oldest finisher. Nothing wrong with old and slow.

Swag: hat, shirt, bib
and AG Wetterhaus award

Friday, July 30, 2021

Ran It With Janet 50K - DNF - June 5, 2021

Plan A or Plan B?

There are two philosophies when it comes to running a race: go out fast, book the time and hang on or go out slowly so there is strength in reserve later.  Both have drawbacks: the former can lead to "fly and die;" the latter to the risk of missing cutoffs or finishing more slowly than one have run.

Emaad and unicorns at the start.

This year's edition of the Ran It With Janet 50K presents me with that quandary; or more specifically, with the strategic puzzle of balancing the two.  The race is three 10.3 mile loops around the Manassas Battlefield Park.  There are two cutoffs - finish the first two loops in five hours and reach the first aid station on the course (about 4.5 miles around the loop) in six hours.  There is also an overall eight hour limit, but that is almost academic - once you have made the second cutoff you don't really have much choice other than to push on to the finish.

Unicorn Janet gives
starting instructions
Starting Off

I meet Emaad and Gayatri at the start. They both plan to go only two laps; Emaad because his foot is bothering him and Gayatri because she is feeling undertrained.  We start off together but Emaad and I shortly pull away.  It is a hot day and while the race is on trails around the park, a significant portion of it is unshaded.

The course is largely the same as when I ran the race in 2016 and 2017, with the exception of a stretch on Chinn Ridge, which now omits passing the Webster and Texas Monuments (both from Second Manassas) and instead follows the ridge to the Sudley Road before crossing it to Henry Hill (a key location for the Confederates at First Manassas and for the Union at Second Manassas).

After passing through the first aid station at the Stone Bridge (mile 4.5) we catch up with Mark and a pair of companions.  They had taken an unannounced early start as Mark has a chronic injury that has slowed him down. 

Emaad and I push on and finish the first loop in 2:12.  I'm pleased with this as I change my shirt.  My plan is do the first loop in 2:15 and the second in 2:30 or so, and that leaves enough of a cushion to make the cutoffs for the second loop and the Stone Bridge aid station and finish within the 8 hour time limit.

Second Loop

Since Emaad is only going to do two loops and I have to make it through the second loop in under the five hour cutoff, I take off at a faster pace in the second loop.

Confederate cannon on Henry Hill
(First Manassas)

The day has gotten hot and the sun is alone in the cloudless sky, so heat is becoming an issue. I walk the uphills, and run the flats and downhills as much as possible. 

At 10:30 I text Sandy, "Halfway done in distance but not in time."  About 15.5 miles down in 3:30, giving me four and a half hours to cover the same distance. "Doable," I think.

From the Sudley Road crossing (mile 7) and to the aid station at Featherbed Lane I leapfrog with Anna and Vivian who are running together.  A bit further, along the unfinished railroad deep cut and approaching the site of the Rock Fight Vivian catches up to me and asks if I'm planning to do the third loop as Anna has decided to drop out after completing the second loop.  I reply in the affirmative and we go on together.

About mile 7 after crossing Sudley Road.
Second Manassas Trail follows woodline.

But after crossing Route 29, and heading the last half mile toward the start-finish I tell Vivian that I'm having second thoughts about it.  The heat has been steadily taking its toll on me.

We finish the second loop in 4:48, comfortably under the five hour cutoff and pretty much according to the 2:15 lap 1; 2:30 lap 2 plan. 

Start and Stop

One lesson I learned from my Elephant Mountain DNF is that it is important to slow down time before making a decision.

I tell Vivian that I'm going to sit for awhile before deciding to quit or go on. I decide that I will sit for five minutes before deciding. I change my shirt so I'm ready to go, but otherwise I just sit in the shade to regroup and take stock. Since I have 12 minutes before I have to head out that isn't pushing the cutoff, but I also realize that time spent sitting is taking away from the time available to make the next cutoff. Vivian, too, sits and gets ready to go on but she has already decided to keep moving.

She gets up and heads back the few yards to the start line. She looks back to me, as does Janet.

I've made my decision.  The 5 minute rest was good and I walk toward them.  "I'm going on," I say and they express approval.

Vivian and I head out. But the third of a mile through the parking lot and along Groveton Road in the mid-day sun saps me.  We turn onto the Second Manassas Trail and I tell Vivian to go on as I can't keep up.  I'm certain that I won't be able to make it to the Stone Bridge aid station in the hour that I have, and besides, it is no longer "fun."  And Vivian and I had earlier discussed how running in 2019 during the pandemic had impressed on her that running should be fun.  

I feel no guilt or shame about turning around and walking back to the start/finish.  I assure the five runners heading out for their third lap that I'm alright and wish them luck.

I get back to the start/finish and tell Janet I'm dropping just as Emaad finishes his second lap. 


The hot day took its toll on the runners.  According to the official results, only 18 of 37 (49%) runners finished within the eight hour time limit. Seven more finished in over 8 hours. Vivian made the Stone Bridge cut off in exactly 6 hours, but then dropped at the Featherbed Road aid station (mile 28.6). Eight of us finished two loops, and three, including Mark did one loop.

The next day, I made my donation to CornerstonesVA to support the Embry Rucker Community Shelter, which provides safe, emergency housing for families and single men and women in Reston, VA.  Janet does not charge for the race but asks participants to support this very worthwhile charity.

Swag: Only a bib for a DNF.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Farm Park Challenge Marathon - May 1, 2021

Round and Round
The Farm Park Challenge has several events to choose from - 3 hour challenge, 6 hour challenge, 10 hour challenge, marathon and a Fun Run. All are held on the same approximately 5.1 mile course at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood.  The challenge races all require that the runners complete the loop in less than an hour, and then begin the next loop at the start of the next hour.  The Fun Run is just show up any time during the day and run as much or as little as one wants. I figure I could do one or two loops of the challenge before not being able to keep up the necessary pace, so running the marathon, which has no such requirement (just start and run until finished) is for me.

Race Day
Emaad and I arrive at the Park in plenty of time to pick up our bibs and be ready to start in the second wave of marathoners at 6:55 a.m. The first wave goes out five minutes sooner. Since there are only 25 starters between the two waves, the COVID rules of wearing a mask and keeping social distance at the start are easy to follow. The masks come off as we cross the start line.
The course is a folded circle around the Agricultural Park, almost entirely on grass or generally broad trails.  The course undulates, but there are no significant hills.  One small stream crossing is on the course, but the lack of rain in the days preceeding the race means that one can easily hop across on two or three stones without wetting a shoe.

The 35 or 40 10- and 6-hour challengers start at 7 a.m. and it doesn't take long for the fast ones to catch and pass us. Throughout the loop more and more of the challenge runners pass us. In fact, since it takes me 1:00:47 to complete the first loop, they all need to pass me so they can start their second loop at 8 a.m.

Emaad on the course
I run much of the second loop in the company of Emaad and Tammy M., a veteran ultramarathoner with who has numerous 100-mile and 24 hour races to her credit, as well as the 2013 Badwater 135 (if you don't know what that is, watch the trailer for Running on the Sun.).  She gives us valuable advice about various races we are considering, as well as training tips.  Oh, her next race after the Farm Challenge Marathon is another marthon the next day.
He was a DNF.
Emaad's foot is bothering him, so as a cautionary move, he drops out after three loops.  I plod on, and finish in 5:42:24, good for 15 of 22 overall (there were 3 DNFs) and 13 of 15 males.  I was the oldest finisher.

Vingettes from the Day
Approaching the park road crossing in the first loop, I spy Mike E. acting as the course marshal.  "I have a cold Surrender Dorothy for you," he tells me. "Maybe on the last lap," I reply.  On the last loop, he isn't there, but the beverage is.  But I pass it up.

The course is pretty well marked and obvious, but it isn't a trail run unless you fall down or get lost.  On a long stretch about two thirds of the way through the loop a couple of runners are coming toward me.  They missed a turn (marked, but easy to miss) and are backtracking.  On a later loop, a couple of runners just ahead of me miss the turn.  "Stop! Left! Left!," I yell at them. They hit the brakes and make ther correct turn. Had they continued straight they would have rejoined the course in a few hundred yards.

To prove that I, too, lack navigational skills, or the powers of observation, I'm barely into the second loop when a buch of challenge runners overtake me running on a parallel trail. "Trail's down here," I conficently tell them. "You're going backwards on the trail to the finish," they reply. They are right, I quickly realize and cut thru to get onto the right trail.

Bacon! Or not.
"Bacon!," I yell at a pair to a pair of pigs at the barn in the middle of the farm. "They don't like that," a voice replies. She is a farm volunteer caring for the animals. "Not really," she says, "We used to name the pigs Bacon and Sausage because we would sell them at the end of the season. but we stopped doing that and now give them people names.  It's harder to eat them when they are named Alice and Bert."

On the fifth lap, a runner overtakes me wearing a mask. "I'm vaccinated," I say.  "Me too," she says, removing the mask. "We're outside and I'm fully vaccinated," I reply, "I don't get why people don't get vaccinated, so my slogan is 'Get vaccinated or die." "My husband has to intubate those people who don't get vaccinated and wind up in the hospital," she points out. "I'm sorry he has to," is my lame reply.  But I've changed my curse on anti-vaxxers to "Get vaccinated or get intubated." Less harsh, more alliteration.

Swag: Two Waredaca beers,
a glass, shirt and bib. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon - March 13 2021

Training is Bunk - Or Is it? An Experiment.

It's been a year since I ran in a real race, and I'm anxious to do one.  Like everyone, life has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and thousands of races have been canceled or turned into virtual events.  In December I ran the Philadelphia Trail Marathon virtually, and while it was nice to get out for a day, it isn't the real thing.

And the lack of goal races means a lack of training focus.  A mystereous sore calf reduces my mileage in February to a paltry 28 miles, well below my monthly target of 100 miles.

But "training is bunk" is one of my mottoes. As is the corollary, "if you can go half the distance, you can go the entire distance."  So despite not having a single run of more than 7 miles since December 12, I watch the weather and the sign-up list for the Seneca Greenway Trail Marathon/50k, and by March 3 the weather for Saturday looks good and there are still slots available. I sign up.

An 8-mile run the next day passes for a long run.  I'm as ready as I'm going to be.

The Difference in a Year

There are pandemic rules for the race. Fewer runners allowed (200 rather than 400), mask wearing before and after the race, masks when passing or being passed, pre-packaged food at the aid stations, no post-race cook-out, no packet pickup morning-of, and most importantly, small group wave starts, with the fastest runners going out first to minimize passing.

While this last rule makes sense, it also unavoidably disadvantages the slower runners, who will have less time to make the cut-offs, particularly the one at the decision point at mile 27.7 to decide whether to go .3 miles to the finish or to go around the lake for an extra three miles and the 50K. (Yes, marathons are normally 26.2 miles, but this is a trail race and the founder of the race always said the distance was "at least a marathon." Runners who don't read the course information closely have been surprised to find that they have reached 26 miles and have two miles, not two-tenths of a mile still to go.)

The smaller field means the I can park closer to the start, since I am starting at 8:21 a.m. nearly an hour after the fast runners stepped out at 7:30.  A group of about six of us go off, and the few 8:24 runners are not far behind.

The fastest I ran all day; and then only for the photo op.
(Photo by B. Lemieux)

Equipment and Other Malfunctions

A mile into the race I notice a rubbing and burning of one of my toes. I stop and take off my shoe to adjust the sock that I think is the cause of the problem. Once the shoe is off I realize it isn't the sock. Instead, one toenail is rubbing against the adjacent toe.  No remedy for that and I have to bear the bit of irritation the rest of the day.  When I get home there is blood from where the toenail had scratched the other toe raw. This is partly a result of not running races in months. Trimming toenails is part of race preparation. 

A couple of  miles later, I grasp the hose of my hydration pack in my mouth and suck. Nothing. I twist the valve left and right and try again. Nothing.  I reach behind and feel for leaks. None. I squeeze the bladder and try again. Nothing.

I mention it to a nearby runner. She suggests that maybe I didn't get the end of the hose seated all the way on by the bladder.  A good idea, but I don't want to stop on the trail to check.  Instead I run the first seven miles to the Route 28 Aid Station without drinking.

When I get there I take the pack off and pull the bladder from the pack.  Sure enough, a push on the end of the hose gets it to seat properly with the bladder and fluids flow. Again, rustyness has meant forgetting to check raceday equipment.


"Hi again, lady with the dog paw gaiters," I greet a runner who I passed earlier and who returned the favor at Route 28 while I tended to my hydration equipment.  We are at about mile 9.

"Hi, runner with the checkerboard tights," she replies.

It's my opening to tell her that they are actualy harlequin tights, and proceed to tell her the story of how they were made for me by the legendary ultra-runner Eric Clifton (he had a streak of 19 years wining at least one ultramarathon).

Since St. Patrick's Day is coming I complement her on her green shirt. "And don't forget my leprecaun tights," she adds.

With Age Comes Wisdom Hesitation

I come to the always-wet Dry Seneca Creek (about mile 12).  I know from the weather the past week that it won't require wading across.  The stepping stones will be above the water.

I hop onto the large first stone and then onto the similarly sized second stone.

And stop.

The next stone is only big enough for one foot and is a bit sloped.  In year's past, this has never been a problem; I don't even recall that the one stone was much smaller than the others.  But now I'm frozen looking at it.

I'm having a crisis of confidence.  What if I jump and come up short, or slip and fall? I can't get both feet onto it, so it will have to be a dynamic crosssing - hit it with one foot and keep going to the next slab which is big enough to stand on. The two leading up to it allowed me to go one stone at a time.  The ones on the other side will also allow me to go one at a time.  But this one will require a dynamic move.

This is what getting old feels like, I think. It is looking at something you have done in the past, and now think you cannot do.  Worrying about the consequences of failure.

Nice dry trail
Or maybe how the cat thinks. I've watched our cats looking at things, calculating whether, and how, to attain their objective.  I've seen how the nearly 15-year old cat has abandoned doing things he once did, but also finding alternatives.

So I switch from old mode to cat mode, calculate how to make my leap and which foot to lead with, rock backward and spring forward. Success! I'm on the wide stone on the other side, and the remainder of the crossing of wide stones is easy.

Maybe next year I'll just wade the stream.

Birding Lesson

"See anything?" I ask the woman looking up into the trees around mile 13.

"Shh," she replies, "Hear that?"


"That's a pine warbler," she replies. "The live in pine trees."

Which makes sense, since we are in a grove of pine trees.

But the small bird escapes our eyes, and I move on.


After crossing Seneca Creek at River Road to head north on the east side of the creek I wonder if the unofficial aid station will be there. Last year, with the seriousness of the pandemic starting to change behavior it had a light-hearted approach, serving Corona beer, and with some volunteers wearing PPE. This year pandemic restrictions suggest that it might not be there.

Special refreshments

But it is! And still serving whiskey and beer - but in individual single-serve cups. The Corona has been replaced with 7 Locks Brewing Surrender Dorothy IPA, but there is still hot grilled cheese being served (in individual cups as well).  And as a bonus there is a mostly decomposed and partly dismembered deer carcass to provide inspiration.

I get a picture with the remains, and have a second cup of the IPA. Mike urges, "have another." 

"I already had another," I reply,

"Have another," he repeats.

One of us will finish; the other is finished.

I think about it for a second. "I'm stupid," I say in declining the offer, "but not dumb."

Bad Karma

"I don't really like this next section," I tell Glenn and Michele, who are course marshals at Black Rock Mill (about mile 21) where the runners have to get on the six miles of the Seneca Ridge Trail for the return to Riffle Ford Road.

You'll like it better than the runner ahead of you," they cryptically reply.

I spot the runner in a bit and soon overtake him.

"Bad karma," I say as I come up behnd him, "to wear the race shirt before you have finished the race."

As I draw even, I notice that his knees are scraped, and his hands are, too. And there is a patch of dirt on his right shoulder.

"I've fallen about 18 times," he replies, "even into the water."

And then I notice the dried blood on the ridge of his nose.

"Want some ibuprofen?" I offer lamely. It's the best I can do for someone who angered the running gods, and then had to listen to me say the equivalent of  "you should have known better."

These cinco amigos are an annual sighting.

Know Your Limitations

As Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations." 

Coming off the Seneca Ridge section of the course and approaching the Riffle Ford Road aid station (mile 27) I look at my watch to judge whether I will make the  decision point-cut off a little less than a mile ahead.  It seems unlikely, but to enhance my chances of missing it, and thereby taking the decision out of my hand, I linger a bit at the aid station.

I get the the cut-off at 3:47 p.m., seven minutes over the cut-off.  But the volunteer there signals that I can go ahead and do the 50K.

"No," I say, "I'm strictly enforcing the cut-off on myself." I turn left, and go the remaining three-tenths of a mile to the finish.

There are several reasons I make the decision. Mainly, I'm feeling somewhat tired, and given my lack of training, Harry Callahan is whispering in my ear. Last year I got to the decision point in almost the same elapsed time, and went on to do the 50K. But that was with a start at 8 a.m., rather than 8:21, so I was commfortably ahead of the cutoff. Somehow it doesn't quite seem right to go the longer distance and keep the volunteers waiting longer, since I know that there are not many people behind me, and I might have been the last, or close to the last one, who would get to go around the lake.  And I don't particularly like the lakeside trail so it would be a bit of an unjoyable slog by myself.


I cross the finish line and offer to return my chip, but chips are not returned during pandemics.  It will pass as a finisher's medal on my medal racks.

I finish in 7:31:17, good for 49 of 59 overall, 37/41 males, and 2/2 in my new (70+) age group.

I pick up the pre-packaged post-race food (bottle of water, banana, couple of pieces of prepackaged candy) and walk back to the car for the drive home.  It's been a good day in the woods.

Oh, yeah, training IS bunk. 

Swag: shirt, bib, chip.