Monday, May 1, 2023

Gunpowder Keg 25K - April 15, 2023

Memory is Fallible
Several acquaintances from the Muddy Shoes group are gathered in the Bunker Hill Road parking lot at Gunpowder Falls State Park awaiting the start of the Gunpowder Keg 25K/50K.  I ran the race in 2011, although a somewhat different course, and they ask me about it.  I recall that much of it is along the Big Gunpowder River and isn't too hilly - just "some rolls" I tell them. This contradicts the race website which describes the course as "challenging" - but that doesn't seem to register with me.

Emaad before the start.

Emaad asks me if we had ever done it together, but I assure him that he was not with me in 2011, and my race report bears that out. It turns out that he ran one lap of three in 2007, on yet a different iteration of the course. Even after being reminded of that he has no memory of it, other than going to MacDonald's for French fries while waiting for two other runners to finish their second loop. He does not remember the "daunting hills, . . . rocky cliffs, [and] plenty of roots and stones to trip over," or his (twice) rolled ankle that Mark's race report recounts.

Instead, we are about to run on my false memory that the course is not particularly difficult.

A Non-Fat Ass Fat Ass
This is a low-key race.  Entry is $20 and runners are asked to bring a gallon of water or some treats for the aid stations.  There are no shirts, medals or any other sort of swag that accompany other races. It is a bit more formally organized that a typical fat ass run, in that it has an entry fee, minimal as it is, and it has manned aid stations. It will even have pizza at the end. A deluxe fat-ass.

The race director gives some instructions before we begin, reminds everyone to get a wrist band to prove they went to the out and back section of the course and sends us on our way.

There are about 130 of us who set out.  The weather is unsettled, and there is a high chance of showers.

We go down a couple of paved switchbacks, then up Bunker Hill Road before turning left onto the Bunker Hill Trail. We chat with a couple of runners - Jason, running his first trail race and Jenny (?, apologies for my forgetfulness if I have the name wrong) - before they and Emaad go on. 

Bridge at Masemore Road; aid station on left.
I clearly do not remember the course as I plod up the hills of the various trails.  Finally, after a long downhill the trail gets next to the Big Gunpowder River. I splash across Bush Cabin Run to the aid station at Masemore Road (about mile 4.6) and run a bit further upstream - until a left turn takes us onto the aptly named Highland Trail. How did I not remember this? Or was it not on the 2011 course?

Regardless, it is uphill, then a bit gently rolling on a gravelly fire road until we come to paved Falls Road, which we run down (quickly and smoothly for a change) to the level trail along the river and back to the Masemore aid station (about mile 7). 

We cross the bridge over the river and pick up the trail on the other side.  I'm running again with Jenny and we trade stories - her of her leaving teaching tech ed in a Baltimore County high school for a position at Goucher College and me of my current reading of Isaac Newton, the Last Sorcerer, by Michael White.  I tell of Sir Isaac Newton's work as Warden of the Mint at the time of the Great Recoinage (the Wikipedia article is wrong in myriad ways - see my article, Sir Isaac Newton served mint as warden, master in the September 11, 1995 World Coin News.)

Rocky trail to left; small stream to right.
We nearly make a wrong turn but Jenny keeps us on the trail.  We cross under I-83, make a left onto York Road to cross over the river, visit the York Road aid station (mile 9.4) and head across the road to run a loop initially along the river east of I-83.  Jenny pulls away and I'm left to run alone again. I cross a small feeder stream, and come to the T-intersection where a sign directs me left. I go to the end of the out-and-back near Big Falls Road where I collect my wrist band (about mile 12) to prove that I was there.

Trail Angel
As I return to the T, there is a runner just crossing the stream.  I remind him that he needs to go left to collect his wristband.

He holds up his arm. "I already have it," he says, I made a wrong turn and ran the loop a second time."

Clay is running without a water bottle or nutrition and is not looking in good shape. To add to his problems we are on the Panther Trail, which follows the small stream we crossed, and it is uphill.  

I offer him a gel and some water. At first he declines but I assure him I have several and can spare one.  Finally he agrees and eats it.  I squirt water in his mouth to help wash it down.  We mostly walk on and I assure him that I'll stick with him.  After a bit he asks for more water and I oblige.

Smoother than usual trail.
(Photo by E. Burki)

At the top of the climb he says he knows where he is and heads for a shortcut back to the York Road aid station. 
Trail Angel II
In a little while I come upon Jason.  He is limping along.

"How are you doing, dude?" I inquire.

"Cramping up," he says, "Anytime I try to run my inner thighs cramp."

I've experienced that and know that it is painful. "How about a salt tablet," I offer, "It should help."

He takes it with thanks. He's also out of water.  I offer some but he declines as we are not too far from the York Road aid station (mile 14.8).

We review what he had done during the day.  As a first time trail runner he has made a few mistakes - not refilling his pack at the aid stations, not eating at the aid stations. He didn't realize that he could get refills. When we get to the aid station he corrects both errors.

While he is getting a refill I fill my bottle, drink some cola, grab some chips and candy and go on. A short stretch along Big Gunpowder leads to a steep 300-foot climb away from the river.  And then a descent back to the river. A short stretch leads to the morning's paved switchbacks, but the return course skips the final one, and I get back to the start-finish in 4:20:11.  This is under the 4:30 cutoff to start the second loop for the 50K, but the race allows the option of stopping after one loop for a 25K finish, and I take it.

Emaad had finished the loop in 3:40:29. Jason is about 8 minutes behind me. Clay, I learn later, dropped, probably at York Road. Overall I was 92 of 106 25K finishers, 65 of 72 males and 1 of 2 in my age group.  Only 22 people finished the 50K

Emaad and I stop at Hysteria Brewing and the attached Bullhead Smokehouse in Columbia for food and refreshment on the way home.  While we are there there is a downpour and then another on the drive home.  We consider our good fortune in not doing the second loop.

My GPS reports nearly 1800 feet of climb over 16 miles of course.  So much for not remembering any climbs from the previous time.

Swag: Wrist Band, recycled bib.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon/50K Marathon - March 11, 2023

I wait until 18 hours before the race to register as I track the weather for the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon/50K. Some rain on Friday, but Saturday's forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-30s to near 50 with blustery winds, but no rain.  There is no increased registration fee as the day draws closer, the race is well under its capacity and the registration cut-off is a half hour after the start, so no reason to hurry to sign up. I'll run if  the course is muddy, which it often (see my 2019 and 2014 reports), but I won't run in cold rain (unless in Madrid).

Waiting to start


The 230 or so runners gather at the Nut Hatch Pavilion in Seneca Creek State Park for the start and at 0730 we are off down the park road.  That helps spread out the field a bit before the turn onto the single track of Long Draught Trail to head south.

The pace is easy and it is a change to become acquainted with one's fellow runners. As we merge onto the Greenway Trail I get chatting with two runners who ran Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon last September.  It is an excellent opportunity to get a briefing on the iconic crossing that I plan to do in June, although the plan is to cross from the South Rim to the North Rim, overnight there, and return the next day.  The two runners did it all in one day.

Inevitably they pull away from me and I run along chatting with others.  The pace is easy and the trail is in excellent shape without mud to speak of. Temperatures are in the upper 30s and the day is a blustery, but the wind largely does not penetrate the woods. Only when the course is along fields is the wind felt, and I take my hat on and off several times as the day progresses.

Volunteers at the Route 28 Aid Station

A pass through the Route 28 aid station (about mile 8) leads to a crossing of the bridge over Great Seneca Creek to the Seneca Bluffs Trail on the west side of the creek. Before long there is a large tree that has been uprooted and toppled across the trail and it requires a bit of scrambling to get around. The forest does not seem particularly vibrant to me, as there is thick undergrowth everywhere, and vines climb on nearly every tree.

Seneca Bluffs Trail - Note vines strangling trees
Crossing Dry Seneca Creek is not a problem for me this year. The stepping stones across the creek are well above the creek and I don't suffer from the hesitancy that I had last year. The reach to the first stone seems a bit daunting but I don't hesitate to take the first step into the shallows by the bank even if it results in one wet foot.

Trail Marker
After finishing Seneca Bluffs Trail and crossing over Great Seneca Creek on River Road (mile 13.5) I look forward to the very unofficial aid station just before turning onto the Greenway Trail. But the aid station is not there! No adult beverages for fortification! Alas! 

So on I go to toward the aid station at Berryville Road (mile 15). Fewer runners out here now.  A woman passes me while I make a phone call, then I pass her back while a pair of males pass us. Getting to Hooker's Branch just before Berryville Road I spot one of the guys trying to maneuver across the stream. I'm feeling light footed and not particularly concerned about getting wet (I have shoes and socks in a drop bag at the aid station if needed). I bound from rock-to-rock and am almost upon his back when I tell him to keep going.  One foot gets a bit wet but I'm unconcerned.

I grab some chips and M&Ms at the aid station, miss the peanut and sweet pickle sandwiches, ignore my drop bag and go on.  I run the entire section back to the Route 29 aid station alone. Occasionally trees creak in the wind and I wonder if they will topple, but the fear is unfounded.

DNF: Upside down and in a tree (miles 7.5 and 19.7)
At the aid station I drink a cup of Coke, get a handful of chips and go on. I pass, for the second time of the day, the upside skull.

Emaad is waiting for me at Black Rock Mill (mile 21). He has agreed to pace me to the finish.  The section on the Seneca Ridge Trail from there to the aid station at Riffle Ford Road (mile 26.8) is one I do not particularly enjoy.  I just seems long and lacks any significant landmarks.

The Santa Mariachi Shrine
Except one, For years the Shrine of the Santa Margaritas has been a welcome sight.  There are rumors that the shrine has been desecrated and is no longer there. But it is there! And perhaps better than in the past.  The saints are wearing new hats and the decorations look fresh.  Later I learn that the acolytes and tenders of the shine (Anton and ML) have restored it to its former glory.  Indeed, better than its former glory, for it now has six, rather than the former five, saints.

Having paid our devotions at the shrine we proceed. We are now in the company of another five runners, with whom we leapfrog, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind. One is a solo woman runner, and the other two are two pairs of men (waggishly described by Emaad as "the CrossFit guys" and "the Marines").  

Stream crossing near Riffle Ford Road
(photo by E. Burki)

We are following the red-blazed trail but slowly become aware that we have not seen any of the blue flagging that marks the course. We realize that we haven't seen any since leaving Black Rock Mill.  At one point we come to a trail intersection and I plow ahead, but Emaad calls me back. The other runners catch up and there is a brief debate as to the way to go, but the consensus is to stay on Seneca Ridge Trail and follow its red blazes. As we proceed I alternate between "this is familiar" and "this is the not the course."

But finally I settle on "this is familiar" and in a mile or so we reach Riffle Ford Road and the aid station (mile 26.8). 

In another mile or so we reach the decision point where one chooses whether to go left to the finish for the "at least a" marathon or go straight for the loop around the lake for the "at least a" 50K.  I'm feeling good, and we are at least 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff for starting the 50K loop. Most times this would be a no brainer and I'd go straight.  But I don't really like the lake loop and don't feel any desire to do it so I elect for the left turn to the marathon finish.

My GPS reads 29.3 miles, about 1.2 miles longer than the GPS reading in 2021.  The course seemed the same except for the unflagged section, which may have led us astray.  The GPS tracks from 2021 and 2023 appear to be about the same.  Another runner who dropped out at the Riffle Ford Road aid station had 28 miles to that point, consistent with my finishing distance and the longer distance this year.  In any case, it is what the race director says it is.

I finish in 7:11:48, good for first, last and only in my age group. I'm the oldest finisher and 63 of 80 overall and 50 of 59 males. There are 117 finishers in the 50K.  I collect my wooden coaster finishers' award and a couple of bagged snacks. Then I drive Emaad back to his car at Black Rock Mill and we go off to enjoy a beer and bite to eat.

Swag: bib, wooden coaster

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Colossal Vail 50/50 55 K - December 10, 2022

Photo by Jim Porter (

Return to the AZT
Three years ago Emaad and I ran the Colossal Vail 50/50 50 mile race.  We returned in 2022 for the 55K on December 10.  The entire course is a double out and back on the Arizona Trail, and the 55K is the southbound part of the course, so we know what to expect.  The only difference is that the race has moved from November to December and the temperature at the start promises to be chilly.

Visiting the Desert Museum with Cathy

The day before the race we meet up with Arizona friend Cathy, who is an avid gardener and runner at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  She gives us an enthusiastic tour of the outdoor facility where we can view not only desert plants, but many of the animals who inhabit the Sonoran Desert, which stretches to the Gulf of California.  The museum also tells how the Tucson area was once home to grasslands watered by riparian waterways, but the arrival of settlers with overgrazing cattle and water diverting plans led to the spread of desert plants in place of the grasslands.  Cathy runs the half marathon at Colossal Vail, but because that race starts well after ours we do not see her. She finishes second in her age group even while stopping to take pictures along the way.

At the start.

I sleep fitfully the night before. I continually worry about being able to make the final cutoff at the final aid station. Also, I worry about the temperature swing. Will I dress for the cold and then regret it as the weather warms up?

We arrive at the start in plenty of time to see the four dozen or so 50-milers take off 15 minutes ahead of us.  Then it is our turn and we are off.  I've dressed for the cold - two long sleeve shirts, gloves, hat, buff and tights. The race starts with a long climb of about 300 feet that helps string out the approximately 80 entrants.

Cresting the ridge we head downhill. After about a mile Emaad takes off.  I don't try to follow.  I chat with some other runners, including a 50 miler who has dropped down to the 55K because he has a holiday party to attend later.

Soon enough I'm pretty much running alone.  I take a gentle fall and land pretty much unscathed. Further good fortune, there are no cacti where I land, especially the dreaded cholla, or jumping, cactus.  I'm up and underway in no time.

Saguaros on the course.
We pass under the railroad trestle over Davidson Canyon and then descend into the canyon itself.  There had been rain the previous week, and the creek has water in it that requires some judicious stepping to keep feet dry.  I only partially succeed and manage to wet one foot.  And the water has a certain fragrance that reminds me that there are probably cattle grazing somewhere upstream.

Gabe Zimmerman Aid Station
A slight climb leads out of the canyon and to the first aid station at mile 4.9.  The aid station is located at the Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead,  named for Gabe Zimmerman, the community outreach director for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He was one of six people killed on January 8, 2011, when a gunman shot the Congresswoman and 18 other persons outside a Tucson Safeway at a “Congress on your Corner” event.  He liked to hike, run and mountain bike in the Tucson mountains and contributed to the completion of the Arizona Trail and his father and friends helped get him memorialized in a place he loved to visit.

The tunnel under I-10.
In about a mile and a half we go through the snake tunnel under I-10. The course rolls a bit as it heads south and then southwest, crossing the Old Sonoita Highway and then in a bit crossing under Highway 83.

By now we have left the range of the majestic saguaro cacti and have only lower varieties to see.

Time for a Change
Reaching the Sahuarita Road Aid Station (mile 11) manned by superheroes ("We were going with a Marvel theme," I'm told, "but then Mrs. Incredible came, so we went superhero."). I sit down and get my drop bag.  It has warmed up enough (frankly, warm enough at Gabe Z AS) to switch my two long sleeve shirts for a fresh one, get rid of my hat, gloves and buff, change the (one) wet socks and try to stay modestly covered while I take off my shorts and tights.  A towel helps. I note a scape on my knee from my fall and get a alcohol wipe to clean it. I joke that I fear contracting necrotizing fasciitis, but decline to offer of a band aid.

Gate on the trail.
Follow the AZT!
And It is Officially a Trail Race
 Going onward, I monentarily lose the trail. But having been here three years previously I realize that the jeep road I'm about to go on is not the AZT, backtrack ten yards and pick up the turn I had missed. Since "it isn't a trail race unless you fall down or get lost'" I have now checked both boxes.  And I still have another 20 miles or so to go.

The course climbs another 500 feet or as it heads to the ridge crest before dropping down to the Peaks View Aid Station (mile 17). About a mile from the aid station I meet Emaad coming toward me.  We exchange greetings and he tells me that only only about 20 minutes behind him.  Thinking about it I recalculate what he said and figure he meant I'm 20 minutes from the aid station, or 40 minutes behind.

After using the primitive facilities at the aid station (imagine a child's potty chair surrounded on three sides by a blue tarp flapping in a breeze) I head north.  Although I had applied sunscreen at mile 11 I regret not having grabbed a cap.  The sun is getting warm.

After topping the crest, I enjoy the opportunity to run the long and mostly gentle, mostly rock-free downhill.  I feel like I'm making good time.

I spend a lot of time walking during ultras. My GPS will say that I walked half the time during this race. I walk the uphills, I mostly walk rocky or rooty sections, and I walk steep downhills. And I walk if I feel tired. So a chance to run for a seemingly long stretch is uplifting.

Back at Sahuarita Road Aid Station (mile 23.6), I change shirts again, this time putting on a short sleeve shirt and remembering to take a cap.  I chat a bit with a runner who has dropped out due to a hip injury and another runner, who I had passed just before the aid station comes in and announces that he, too, is dropping out.

Facing the Cut-off
I had prepared a pace card so I knew what times I needed to keep up to make the cut off at Gabe Z in-bound.  But I had lost it, and would have to rely on being able to calculate time and distance, something ultrarunners know is difficult to do on a tired brain.  I had a back of the envelope calculation that I was in good shape, but one is never certain. A fall, a rolled ankle or a wrong turn can lead to failure.

I go on and after a bit can see I-10. Cross under it and Gabe Z is only a mile and a half away.  But it never seems to get closer. Maybe I'm looking at it on the diagonal.  Maybe the trail is veering at an angle. But finally the trail drops down to the tunnel and I'm through.  A glance a the watch shows that time is not a problem.
In the distance I can see another runner.  Sometimes I seem to be getting closer, but just a soon she pulls away.  The final stretch to the aid station (mile 29.8) seems to take forever but I arrive there with plenty of time to spare.  I plunk down in a chair while the helpful aid station workers (dinosaur theme at this aid station) refill my pack, soak my bandana with cold water and generally treat me royally. Now my only concern is getting to the finish before sunset as I don't have a light other than the flashlight on my phone.
Union Pacific railroad bridge (about miles 3.8 and 30.9) 
Home Stretch
Shortly after leaving the aid station I catch up with Judi.  She is signed up for the 50 miler, but has decided to drop down to the 55K. (The race allows 50-mile runners the option to take a 55K finish rather than continuing on to the northern out-and-back when they return to the start-finish area.)  We go along together, chatting and trading stories of races we have done, including one we both did in different years.

Food at the finish, with finisher's spike. 

Approaching the finish as we cross dry Agua Verde Creek we hear the announcer getting the three dozen entrants in the night half marathon ready to start. If we don't get to the finish quickly they will all be coming at us on on single track.  I urge Judi and another runner we have caught up to on. The half marathoners see us coming and cheer us to the finish, less than two minutes before they start.

Emaad is at the finish, having finished in 8:29. I finish in 9:43, good for 72 of 79 overall; 48/51 males and 3/3 in my age group.

I enjoy the BBQ sandwich, macaroni salad, potato salad and a beer before we head out.

Swag: Shirt, bib, finisher's spike,
AZT socks and sticker, Huppy bar.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Patapsco Valley 25K - October 29, 2022

Back to Running
I fractured a bone in my left foot on July 11when I missed a step in the house.  No surgery was necessary, but I spend eight weeks in a cast, which didn't come off until September 14.  While I could walk, I didn't resume until October 3 when I managed four miles on the treadmill. From then I ran nearly every day, usually 3 - 6 miles per day. Uncertain of my stability on trails, I bought a pair of Leki trekking poles.

Emaad had signed up for the two-loop Patapsco Valley 50K on October 29.  Looking at the course map I recognized that I have run on much of it while running the Maryland Heat Runs in 2015 and 2019. While it is nice to know what the course offers, in this case I know it offers plenty of steep up and downs. I know that I'm not in shape to take on the 50K, but one loop for 25K with a generous cutoff seems doable, particularly with trekking poles.  I sign up.

I get one ten mile run on trails in with Emaad on October 23. It's a chance to get used to the trekking poles. 
Typical Single Track

Race Day
I drive Emaad and myself to the race start at Baltimore County Community College on the edge of the the park.  The weather is just about perfect - maybe a tad warm.  We chat with fellow runners and he goes off with the 222 50K runners at 730.  The 25K starts an hour later. I chat with friend Gretchen as we wait, and once we are off she is quickly gone.

We run a few hundred yards on a grassy field before getting on the single track trails in the park. It is a bit of up and down, but mostly down, as we need to wind up at the Patapsco River before crossing over to the other side of the valley.

As time goes on the runners spread out and I move further back in the field. The poles help on the steeper rocky and rooty downhills, and at one small stream crossing, save me from slipping from a rock.
Tunnel under train tracks (Mile 6)

Memories of the course come back from the Maryland Heat Races although we are largely running the trails in the opposite direction. After about 3 miles there is a water-only aid station, but my pack is pretty full so I thank the volunteer and go on.

Near the river we cross under the railroad tracks and in a short while come to the first full-service aid station.  I get my usual fill of cookies and M&Ms and eat them while going on.  

We cross the river on a road, pass the Avalon Picnic Area (start-finish for Maryland Heat Races) and turn uphill on the trail.

Plenty of climbing and descending small valleys are in store, but I'm in no hurry and am mostly walking anyway.
John Smith Marker (about mile 8)

On top of a ridge overlooking the river I stop to look at a monument by the side of the trail.  "Capt John Smith" on one side, and "to the cross hath been discovered A.D. 1608" on the opposite.

I'm a bit confused as are several other runners. We are a couple of hundred miles from Jamestown, Virginia. the only thing I know about John Smith is the story about Pocahontas. While much about that story is unclear, disputed or romanticized (or all three), it turns out that Smith did visit the place where the monument sits. 

A year after arriving in Virginia, Smith extensively explored and mapped the Chesapeake Bay, apparently looking for a passage to the Pacific Ocean. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail follows his journey, including his visit up the Patapsco to that site.
Cascade Falls (mile 10)

Onward I go (plod?).  I pass the log by a now-dry intermittent stream crossing where I lay down during the 2019 Maryland Heat Race to recover from the heat. (That picture is worth a look if you want to see what not-fun running looks like.)

Downhill leads to the picturesque Cascade Falls. There are two photoagrapers there, both with cameras on tripods, on either side of the pool. I wonder why they chose the side they did.  Many other people are also taking pictures at the photogenic location and I can't resist either, asking a fellow runner to take mine. 

Crossing over the stream outlet of the falls to get to the trail on the other side requires navigating over medium size rocks.  Near the end of the rocks a father is helping his pre-teen son get from rock to rock while his mother and a couple of other children wait. The father is describing the rocks ahead and instructing the son where to feel for his next step.  The boy reaches out with his rubber tipped stick and feels the contours of the rocks.  He is blind. Courage, trust and love are together in that moment.
In half a mile I get to the next aid station, refuel with some bacon and candy and return to the trail for more up and down.

Ahead of me are "Tweetle Dum" and "Tweetle Dee," a pair of women with matching shirts with the afore-mentioned logos on them.  I press to keep up with, and even catch up to them.  We pass a large group of women out walking all wearing matching shirts proclaiming their support for abused women.  One has fallen, and some of the others are gathered around her, but she isn't hurt and doesn't require assistance.  There are two hikers that I repeatedly pass, and they repeatedly pass me, when I stopped at the falls, and the aid station. 

I finally catch up to the Tweetles, as I dub them, around mile 12, and see Gretchen just in front of them. Another runner, Nicole, is with her.  Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy! 

Along the Bloede Dam Trail, to a right on Ilchester Road, another right past the second water-only aid station, across the Patapsco Swinging Bridge onto the paved Grist Mill Trail and a sharp left back onto the trail.  We are headed away from the river, so it is up hill. And more uphill.

We pass Ilchester Rocks, where rock climbers practice their skills (although there are none today), It's then a long downhill on the Sawmill Branch Trail, where there is a very steep boulder drop that requires me to go bottom first, and then a 300 foot climb out.

Somewhere along here Gretchen and I decide that we should finish together. Maybe it is a way to bank any competitive fires we have, or a mutual decision to be companionable, or a mutual decision to be compassionate. In any case, even as we leapfrog a bit we stay together. We come out of the woods together, and as we cross the field we join hands and cross the finish line together.

Post-Race and Results
I finish in 4:49:24  for 162/186 overall, 106/114 males and 1/2 in my age group.  Gretchen also wins her age group, even though there are no prizes.

Waiting for Emaad I go off to Subway and get a foot-long which I devour without any problem. Picking him after his 50K finish we go off to Hysteria Brewing Company for some refreshment.

Swag: Shirt, tote bag, magnet, bib and medal

Monday, August 8, 2022

Finger Lakes 50s 50K - July 2, 2022

Running by South Burnt Hill Pond
(photo by FLRC)
 Mud or No Mud?

I spend Friday night worrying about rain.  Although the weather in the Finger Lakes region has been dry, race reports on previous Finger Lakes 50s indicate that the course can be wet all the time, and rain can quickly add water to the stream crossings on the course. Light rain falls overnight while I sleep fitfully.

The race fills up quickly, and I registered on January 1, when registration opened (and closed). It will be the second time running the race, which I first ran in 2007.

Up at 5 a.m., and there is a bit of mist in the air; maybe some intermittent raindrops as well. Sandy drives me from our Watkins Glen house to the start at the Potomac Group Campground in the Finger Lakes National Forest. A deer dashes across County Road 4 on the way.

Sandy drops me off and I struggle to put on my 'emergency' plastic poncho for the walk to the campground.  It isn't exactly raining but it isn't exactly not raining either. There's no cell service there so I can't check the radar.  Finally I decide that since the forecast calls for improving conditions as the day progresses, I can go without. But I wear a hat in case. And gaiters to keep mud out of my shoes (realizing as I put them on that I didn't attach velcro to the heel to secure the back of the gaiter). I loan a trash bag to another runner so that he can keep his bag dry in case it does rain.

The cowless first pasture.
Don't' Let the Cows Out! 

The race motto is "Don't Let the Cows Out" as we will run thru three cow pastures.  The last minute instructions from the race director emphasis that this calls for ditching the usual politeness to following runners.  "If they are not within touching distance of the gate," he says, "close it. We can't have cows escaping if this race is to continue."

The course is a 16.5 mile loop in the Finger Lakes National Forest. One loop for the 25K, two loops for the 50K and three loops for the 50 miler (plus a "baby loop").  And yes, that's 33 miles, not 31.1 miles for the 50K, but the purpose is to get the 50 milers almost finished (49.5 miles) in 3 loops. Anyway, the distance is what the race director says it is.

Down and up trail

At 6:30 a.m. the 50M and 50K runners start. The 25K runners will start an hour later.  Down gravel Potomac Road we go before turning right and onto single track. We cross a road, run along a pasture fence line, then thru a gate into the pasture. No cows are in sight and it appears that none have used this pasture for awhile.  We exit on the far side, being sure to close the gate. Then it is a long downhill on the unpaved Mark Smith Road. I take it easy on the downhill as I have no interest in trashing my thighs early.

Don't Let the Cows Out!

The weather is pretty good for July 2 - it's overcast and the temperature is warm but not oppressive. And there is no rain.  And an even greater surprise is that the course is pretty dry.  This is due to the drought conditions that the Finger Lakes have been experiencing. The bit of rain the night before has settled the dust down without creating mud or raising the little or no water in the streams on the course.

Close the Gate.
From the Morgue Aid Station on Mark Smith Road, the course turns onto the Gorge Trail, going upward before turning downhill to the South Beach Aid Station. The trail skirts a pond, but it isn't swampy. Then it is more downhill on the Interlaken Trail before looping back up to South Beach on the South Slope Trail. (As far as I can tell, the aid station names are apropos of nothing.) 

From there it is north on the Interlaken Trail, crossing Matthews Road with nice views of Seneca Lake to the west while crossing another cow pasture (a rare place with a cell signal)  to a right to the Library Aid Station on Burnt Hill Road. Then into the forest again, with a steep and scary descent on the aptly named Ravine Trail, followed by the inevitable uphill that follows a descent.

Then past the horse camp and north on the Backbone Trail. On the trail some rain starts to fall and I switch my hat around for backward to forward.  But the shower doesn't last long and the Outback Aid Station, is next to the third pasture of the day, this one with grazing cows. On the far side of the pasture two cows are near the gate grazing. Or are they just waiting for someone to let them out? I make sure to close the gate behind me.

This is the homestretch (a couple of miles anyway) back to the finish at the campground.  Stretches of pine forest, some boardwalks to run on, another pond or two to skirt, and in 4:04:24 I've completed the first lap.

Alongside a pasture on the Burnt Hill Trail

Second Lap

I change my shirt, taking off my 2007 FL50s shirt, ditch my hat and head out on my second loop.  My goal is to finish the race in 9 hours, so I feel good about having close to five hours for the second loop. No hurry, no worry, even as 50 milers on their third loops speed by me.

Every Runner Has a Story

I'm in no hurry (from the start, not just the second loop), and take the opportunity to chat with other runners as I can. Some of these conversations happened on the first loop, and not necessarily in the order presented.

Alongside South Burnt Hill Pond

I run a bit with a runner from Pittsburgh and tell her about running Hell Hath No Hurry there. She points to her visor - it's from HHNH.  We trade stories about our experiences at it and discuss the race director, Peter K, who is my first cousin, once removed. My first cousin is the grillmaster at the race.

A bell in memory.

One woman tells me this is her first race. Do you mean your first trail run, or first marathon, or first ultra I ask.  No, my first race, she replies. I've never entered a race before, she says.  She is a triathlete, so she has done runs as part of those events, but never just entered something that is a solely a running event.  She says she is enjoy the event.

On the Backbone Trail during the first loop I come upon a couple walking ahead. One of them is limping.  I express concern and offer salt tabs or ibuprofen if it will help. The runner says its OK, that while he won't be able to run, they are close enough to the campground that they will make the first loop cutoff of five and a half hours and will be able to walk out the second loop.

Outback Aid Station
The Horses Smell the Barn

On the second pass through the pasture by Mathews Road I spot the cowbell hung with colorful flags from a tree. I ring it as I pass, as it was put there by the Finger Lakes Running Club in memory of a member who had passed, but who loved running there. We runners are urged to ring it for him.

I linger a bit at the Outback Aid station, in no particular hurry as I eat, chat with the volunteer and enjoy the view. A women runners comes hustling thru, not stopping for anything. The volunteers yell at her for her bib number so they can log her passage. "Nine," she shouts over her shoulder.  She is Maura Tyrrell, and is on her way to being the first female (sixth overall) in the 50 mile race.

It's a bit of a reminder that I, too, should get moving on. Thru the cow pasture, but the cows have moved on, into the piney woods, over the boardwalks and around the first of the Potomac Ponds, where people are floating on tubes and rafts. 

I come across a woman hiker I saw earlier in the day when we had exchanged pleasantries.  She tells me that I only have 3/4 of a mile to the finish. I look at my watch (I had shut the GPS down at the Outback Aid Station to conserve what little battery life remained), do some mental calculations and figure I can finish under nine hours. Since I haven't been hurrying the second loop, I have plenty left in the tank, and get my giddy-up on (although it might not have seemed so giddy-up to a dispassionate second party observer). A brief moment of confusion near the end is resolved by people pointing me in the right direction, and I finish in the second loop in 4:48:50, for a final time of 8:53:13.

I have more than an hour to wait until Sandy arrives to pick me up, so I take my time sitting under a pavilion, watch other runners finish, chat with people, and get the post-race meal of BBQ tacos and salt potatoes. There is no beer available (officially), but there is non-alcoholic Athletic Brewing Upside Dawn. It turns out to exceed expectations so I ask for a second.  And as I have time, later I have a Free Wave IPA. Hydration following a July ultra is important for recovery, after all.

Post-race BBQ tacos, salt potatoes
and non-alcoholic beer

I finish 65 of 75 (and 8 DNF), 40 of 41 males and 2 of 2 in my age group, only 1:27 behind the only other 70+ runner (he's 73 to my 71). 

Swag: Shirt, Slate Coaster, Bib

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Night Train 50K - June 25, 2022

Pre-race hydration
Hydration Is Important
Emaad and I arrive in Farmville for the Night Train 50K and its 5:30 p.m. start about 1:30 in the afternoon. The day is warm, with temperatures in the upper 80s (it will be 88 at race time) and the race starts in about four hours. We know what we need to do before then.

Runners know that hydration is important. Dehydration can lead to cramping and nausea, mental confusion and contribute to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  We have been drinking water and iced tea on the three and a half hour drive, but now it is time for some more fluids.  Our first stop in Farmville is at Three Roads Brewery right on the High Bridge Trail and next to the old Farmville Train Station, which will be the location of a race aid station. I get a High Bridge Helles Lager for its low (5.2 ABV) alcohol content, and get a four-pack to go.

Hydrated and refreshed we go to Charlies Waterfront Cafe for lunch, which for me is a chicken Caesar salad and an iced tea (more hydration). We finish about 3:30, go check-in to our hotel, take a brief rest and drive the 15 minutes it takes to get to the start at Camp Paradise, an earthen Civil War fortification erected by the Confederates to defend the high bridge over the Appomattox River.  It was paradise as the locals treated the soldiers well (and better than being besieged by the Union in Richmond and Petersburg). Paradise ended abruptly when Union troops, in pursuit of Lee's army fleeing west, arrived on April 6, 1865

Emaad and I at the start
At 5:30 p.m. the sun is still high and the 114 runners in the 50K head out (104 half marathoners and 35 5K runners will start later). In only a couple on minutes we are on 2400 foot long High Bridge across the Appomattox River 125 feet below. There is plenty of chances to chat with our fellow runners as we travel the five miles toward Farmville, including a couple pushing a toddler in a stroller.

A runner tells me of how she had to be carried off one race by a couple of runners when she was suffering from hypothermia.  She was hospitalized for several days but was more concerned that a runner who helped save her was a DNF for missing a cutoff as a result of rescuing her. Such is the mindset of the ultrarunner.

The High Bridge trail takes us past Three Roads Brewery where a woman sitting having a beer cheers us on. "Wish I could have a beer," I say.  "Want a sip?" she replies. "Sure," I respond, veering off the trail toward her.  "I'm vaccinated," I note, taking a sip from her glass. "That's OK," she replies. Emaad thinks that I'm crazy and that she probably poured the rest of the beer out.  I doubt that, but I regret that I forgot that I had a collapsible cup in my pocket, as the race is cupless.

Early on
We stop at the first aid station at the old Farmville Train station next door to the brewery (mile 5.7; ET 1:09:57) for some quick refreshments.  The part of the course is that same that I ran at last December's Freight Train 50K (report here) so it is familiar.  The main difference is that the trees are leaved out and provide some shade from the still-high sun.

We reach the Tuggle aid station (mile 11; ET 2:19:23). I'm pleased with our progress as I have a goal to finish in 7:30, about 7 minutes faster than I did Freight Train. According to my pace card, I'm about 15 minutes ahead of the pace I need to accomplish that, but I try to caution myself not to go out too fast.  In long races banking time does not work, conserving fuel does. Still it is hard to throttle back when you feel good.

Emaad is starting to lag behind, but I tells me that he is fine physically, but is mentally in a dark place.  He tells me to go on.  Since I have a goal, I do.

Sunset beyond Tuggle
I recognize the field with hay bales where Caroline had me take her picture in December. Now the sun is beginning to set over that field and the (new? same?) hay bales. A bit further along I pass where the turn around was for December's 50K.

The light is starting to fade, but not so much that a light is needed. I get to the Prospect aid station (mile 15; ET 3:12), go to my drop bag, dispose of my hat, change into a dry shirt and extract a 60-lumen cane light that I found in a cupboard at home and stick it on my finger but do not turn it on.  I go the additional mile to the turn-around at mile 16. It is getting dark but the last bit to the turaround had an open field beside it and there is enough light to get to the marking the spot without using the light.  A check of my GPS watch and the pace card shows I'm still 15 minutes to the good.

Old RR mileposts on the trail
About .4 mile back toward Prospect I greet Emaad on his way to the turnaround.

Return to Prospect
Back at Prospect aid station (mile 17, ET 3:44) I sit down, go thru my drop bag and select a knuckle light to carry for when the cane light gives out. I decide not to bring a second knuckle light, my head lamp or spare batteries. 

By now (9:15 p.m) it's dark. The sun set about 8:38 p.m., the half hour of light that is civil twilight is over and the sliver of a moon provides no light.  The trail is unlit and there are few buildings or dwellings by it.  And it does not take more than a mile or two for me to realize that the cane light is providing barely enough illumination to distinguish the darker center of the trail from the slightly lighter, more trod portions on either side of the center.  But I resist using the brighter knuckle lights as I want to save them so I have light later on.

And I'm starting to get tired. At 9:30, barely a mile after leaving Prospect I text Emaad, "Ditching send and a half hour [goal]. Cramping pre-cramping. You'll catch me."  My calves are tightening up from all the repetitive motion of running on a smooth, flat surface.

Tuggle Revisited
I arrive at the Tuggle aid station (mile 21, ET 4:49) feeling exhausted.  I'm 6 minutes ahead of my target pace for a 7 1/2 hour finish, but I've given that up. I sit down and text Emaad again (10:18 p.m.), "I'm at Tuggle. How are you doing."  If he is near, I think I might wait for him. No response so I try calling. No answer.

Emaad on High Bridge
I get up and get going again.  I switch to the knuckle light, putting it on the low setting to preserve it, but I'm still concerned it may not last to the end.

Emaad texts that he is at Tuggle at 10:32.

Ahead of me I see a pair of lights. There is a pair of runners ahead.  If I can catch them I can shut off my light and rely on theirs.

It takes a bit but I finally catch them, partly because they had stopped to look at a black snake partly on the trail. They are amenable to me relying on their light.

Having better light is useful, as there are occasional small frogs on the trail and seeing them is better than stepping on them.

Stories start to be exchanged. Michael, who is setting the pace for Christie and me by deciding when we should run and when we should walk (we are mostly walking; running when he fears he might cramp up) reveals that he did the Moab 240 in 2019. He tells about the hallucinations he had there: the Indians silently watching from mesas ("like a John Wayne movie"), the people cleaning the trail where he was running ("who are you thanking?" a fellow runner asked him) and the "rock people," who silently guided him back onto the trail when he was off-course and headed toward the edge of a cliff.

Sign in Farmville marking the trail
Farmville Again
We reach the Farmville aid station (mile 26.5; ET 6:07), thank the volunteers, refill our water bottles, eat a couple of slices of oranges and head out.  I text Emaad at 11:42 p.m. that I'm passing thru Farmville.  Eight minutes later he responds that he is 10 minutes behind me.

I say out load, partly in surprise, that I'm still five minutes ahead of the 7 and a half hour pace. "You won't make it," Michael advises. "I know," I reply, as reality returns.

I turn on my light. We press on, and I gradually pull ahead, as I can walk faster than they can. We spy a rabbit as we leave Farmville, the only wildlife (other than the frogs) I see the entire race.

I actually catch up to a runner or two, and get passed by several. Sometimes I turn off my light just for the fun of running in the dark, or seeing my shadow ahead of me cast by runner's lights behind me.

Crossing High Bridge, I turn off the light so that I can enjoy the the lights of the thousands of fireflies below in the woods beneath the bridge.

Even with the finish in sight I'm walking. My calves are horribly tight. A runner goes by and I don't care.

Fifteen yards from the finish another run draws abreast.  Somewhere in the primitive part of my brain the urge to compete bubbles up. "Let's race to the finish," I say, and we do our best imitation of sprinting - to dispassionate observers probably little more than a waddle. But I cross the line first, accepting my finisher's coaster and plunk down in the nearest chair past the line. My time is 7:37:02.

Emaad finishes two and a half minutes later. Michael and Christie are five minutes further back. The woman with the stroller finishes in about the same time, the child sound asleep.

I finish in 7:37:02, seven seconds faster than I did Freight Train.  I'm 85 of 116 overall, 58/74 males and 1 of 3 in my age group. One male and one female older than I finish.

Swag: shirt, coaster, sticker and bib