|The Catoctin 50k is a tough trail run held in August every year. It features heat, humidity, hills, and sometimes swarms of hornets. The only prize that finishers receive is a Cat Card, shown here. Last year Caren and I didn't make it within the official cutoff time; this year, thanks to Caren's excellent coaching on the trail I come in comfortably at 7:53. And I don't fall down once!|
"This is just a training run for The Ring!" Caroline Williams shouts down at me from the balcony of the Gambrill State Park Tea Room as I approach the finish line of the Catoctin 50k. She's right—The Ring, a 71-mile circuit on the Massanutten Mountain Trail on Sep 5-6 this year, will be a challenge all its own. We'll see how it goes.
During the final climb to the Tea Room I catch up with a young lady, Sue, who's moving slowly. She's suffering from muscle cramps, and I stop to give her a Succeed! electrolyte capsule from my pouch. It's too late to help her now but perhaps it will speed her post-race recovery and make the drive home more comfortable. We chat and she tells me that her previous longest run was only 13 miles. I salute her in astonishment. (But respect and admiration don't keep me from leaving her behind as I rush onward to the finish.)
"Mark!" shouts friend Caren Jew, across the creek that separates me from the turnaround. "Caren!" I shout back, then begin to wade the waters. Caren and her daughters are volunteering at the Manor Area aid station in Cunningham Falls State Park. Young Jenna runs with me around the required loop there, but then shyly refuses to shake my hand. She's quite sensible: I'm muddy, stinky, and dripping with sweat. For good measure I decide to empty my water bottle over my head before getting it filled with Gatorade. Jenna stands back while Caren takes a photo.
I've arrived at the turnaround point of the course in 3:44, half an hour ahead of the cutoff. Last year Caren and I traversed the segments of the course to this point only a few minutes slower each, arriving close to but within the time limit. Today, I estimate that I have a chance to make it in under 8 hours if I push, so with a wave of heartfelt thanks to Caren I hasten out, stagger across the stream, and commence the long climb back.
Phil Hesser, author of a tongue-in-cheek Catoctin Trail navigation guide, chats with me in the Tea Room. Registration takes only a few seconds so we have plenty of time until the pre-race briefing. Phil describes how he took a wrong turn last year and ended up DNF'ing. I remind him that Caren and I saw Kari Anderson with him then, returning to the course, but that I refrained from making up stories about what they were doing alone in the woods. Phil describes his Comrades Marathon experiences in South Africa, which include a finish within only a few seconds of the 12-hour cutoff.
Tom Green, ultrarunner extraordinaire, joins the conversation. Tom ran with me during the Bull Run Run 2008, and reports that in spite of injuries and surgery he's still continuing his consecutive-finish streak in that race—an astounding 17 years in a row. The Cat run today is more of a training excursion for him, as well as a test of his ankle. Phil and I wish him well.
Outside again I meet and greet a variety of friends and acquaintances. Jon ("Not Chuck!") Norris introduces me to his fiancé and family who are here to crew for him. He tells me about the Grindstone 100 miler that he ran last year. A few minutes later a woman mentions her interest in that race, so I lead her over to talk with Jon. Also here is Mark McKennett, preparing to be the Grim Sweeper who will trek the course after the cutoff to ensure no lost runners are left behind on the trail. Always-cheerful Gary Knipling says "Hi!" as do others who recognize me but whom I'm embarrassed not to know by name.
Race Director Kevin Sayers gives his always-enthusiastic pre-brief, is applauded by the crowd, and we're off at 8:02am by my watch.
From the beginning I'm trying to achieve three major goals:
I stumble a few times but tell myself "No trippage!" and manage to recover without incident. I semi-roll my ankles (three times on the right foot, once on the left) but fortunately not seriously. No major chafing today—I'm wearing my lucky "Montgomery Lacrosse" mesh shirt that saw me through my very first marathon in 2002. I bought it in a thrift store for a few dollars and it's a bit ragged now, but still holds together. My fluorescent international-orange baggy shorts should help errant hunters avoid mistaking me for a deer.
The race is generally uneventful, a Good Thing. During the first third I'm usually tagging along behind a peleton of other runners; the middle third I find myself with one or two others from time to time; the final third sees me mostly alone. Several runners recognize me (from online photos?) and tell me that they read my report on the race last year.
Hornets (or perhaps small bees?) buzz and flicker above the rocks, especially in warm sunlit areas, but don't sting me. I slow my pace on the downhills to reduce the risk of falling. The temperature begins in the lower-70s and rises to the mid-to-upper 80s, with intermittent cloud cover but no rain, unlike last year. I avoid electrolyte and nutrition problems by religiously taking a Succeed! e-cap every hour, starting before the race. I also suck down an energy gel on the half-hour when there's no aid station nearby, and drink copious quantities of Gatorade. At the aid stations I keep my bottles filled and grab cookies, watermelon slices, and whatever other munchies appeal at the moment. My goal is to keep moving and spend less than a minute refueling.
The difference between ultras and shorter races is repeatedly demonstrated today: ultrarunners are far more relaxed, far less competitive. At mile 20, for instance, I pass a suffering runner and pause to give him two ibuprofen tablets. A woman and I stop to help another runner near mile 25 who has run out of water; she gives him some of her Gatorade, he declines my offer of water, and we reassure him that an aid station is less than a mile ahead. Whenever runners pass one another, almost without exception, they exchange greetings and encouraging words. We're all in this together!
The 2008 Catoctin 50k turns out ok, thanks to my wonderful friend and consummate Cat Coach Caren Jew and all the practice runs she led me along during the past many months. Caren isn't able to do the race this time; she's coming back from an injured ankle. Last year's Catoctin 50k that we ran together went better than expected, even though we DNF'd by half an hour. This year she's with me in spirit every step of the way, and thanks to her preparation I never get lost even in the trickiest sections of the course. Thank you, Caren!
|0:31||2:48||-||-||Fishing Creek Rd||0:37||3:05|
|0:27||3:16||-||-||Gambrill Park Rd||0:33||3:37|
|0:42||4:26||-||-||Gambrill Park Rd||0:54||5:04|
|0:30||4:56||-||-||Fishing Creek Rd||0:39||5:43|
In the table distances are given in miles and paces in minutes/mile. The initial loop around the parking lot plus descent to the first crossing of Gambrill Park Rd took 12 min; returning does not require the parking lot loop and took 10 min. Those times are included in the first and last rows of the table, respectively.
^z - 2009-08-03