|"And that reminds me of the NCT marathon ..." — "Well, when I did the NCT marathon, it seemed to me that ..." — "My NCT result suggests ..." — etc., etc.|
Yes, it's a fortnight after the Northern Central Trail Marathon, and at least once every mile today I manage to work it into the conversation (or rather, my monologue). Apparently it was a peak experience of my lifetime. As the day goes on my obsession becomes something of a running joke (pun intended). Kate Abbott kindly puts up with me, but I notice that she seems to go a little faster every time I say the letters "NCT". Coincidence?
And did I mention that I finished in 4:01:06 at the NCT last month, a 24-minute improvement in my marathon PR?
The VHTRC's Magnus Gluteus Maximus is a low-key go-as-you-please event. In 2006 I did ~21 miles of the MGM with friend Caren Jew, and in 2007 managed ~10 miles with new trail runner comrades Kabrena Rodda and Kevin Lee. Today Kate Abbott and I hope to go a bit farther, but we also have a significant schedule constraint: the party this afternoon for Kate's eldest son's 11th birthday.
So half an hour early we start down the southern pink-horseshoe-blazed trail, saving a mile from the regular route. Downstream on the Bull Run Trail to the Marina we go, where we discover an aid station set up but unmanned. We snag a handful of munchies (including greasy-salty fried-corn cheesy-balls), drink a few sips of Coke, and trek onward. The fastest runners from the official 8am start begin to pass us about half a dozen miles into our journey, and thereafter we've got company much of the time.
The hose from my hydration backpack freezes solid and I'm without water for the first couple of hours. Eventually I figure out that I can tuck it inside my shirt and thaw it, and after that I'm fine. Kate reveals that she's been doing that all along. "Why didn't you tell me?" I ask.
Before we start Kate gives me a baggie of tasty peanut-butter M&M candies and Utz mini cheddar-cheese cracker-sandwiches. I nibble on the contents all day and finish during the final mile. I'm grossly overprepared and never need to eat any of my candy bars, energy bars, etc. ("You're a mobile candy store!" Kate exclaims when she looks inside my pack.) But better to be ready than the opposite. I don't need any of my pills today either; the only twinges are the usual ones in the left foot metatarsal bones.
At Fountainhead helpful volunteers tell us which way to proceed, and though I pay them no attention Kate is listening. A few lost runners are wandering the parking lot, so after getting them back on course Kate and I trot along to the next aid station where we drink soda water and continue. A wag has posted a sign that says "NICE RACK" on a tree that we pass. Gary Knipling, never inhibited, quotes it with a twinkle in his eye as he catches up with us. "There's a lady present, Gary!" I sternly admonish him. "This is the 21st Century—you're not too old to learn some manners!" He cheerfully ignores me.
The clock is ticking toward our deadline, so at 10:56am we tag the marker post and turn tail at the entrance of the infamous "Do Loop", rather than attempt the 3 mile circuit. Back at the aid station we top up Kate's Camelbak and my Nathan vest-pack. I dig through the box of snack-size bags of chips and in the bottom find the last one of crunchy Cheetos—woot! (Kate located one earlier there, and I'm inspired by her example.) The tasty combination of grease and salt stains my gloves and reinvigorates me. I take the lead for a while, then give it back to Kate who has a perfect sense of pace. Our legs are a bit tired now, after her triumphant JFK 50 miler and my NCT.
We chat with each other as we run, about fitness, family, friends, fun, and frustrations. Other runners continue to pass and I overhear good stories about ultramarathon experiences they've had. Just after the Marina we pause to read the text of a small memorial to a girl who died here 22 years ago.
A fast racer, Perry, from southern Maryland catches up with us as we're approaching the soccer fields. He stumbles but avoids a fall. I quote the second stanza of my comic verse Face Plant, much to Perry's amusement. Kate explains that I burst into spontaneous poetry recitations during long runs. The performance usually succeed in driving away anyone within earshot, Kate adds. Perry makes his excuses and heads onward soon thereafter.
When we reach Bull Run Trail milepost 10 we're at the bottom of the horse path that we decended almost seven hours ago. Kate and I check our watches and see that there's ample time for an extra mile, so upstream we head along the Bull Run Run course past BRT milepost 11. Along the way another runner catches up with us, but at our advice she takes a short cut upward. We follow the traditional steep northernmost trail up to the Hemlock Overlook lodge, running as much as we can at this point. We both need the experience on rocks and hills for next year's races.
Black truly has a slimming effect. When elite ultrarunner Michele Harmon sees me post-run she exclaims, "Mark, you're only a shadow of your former self!" I gently disagree. Credit goes to my ninja-like costume today: sable tights, shorts, and long-sleeved shirt.
Kate and I snag slices of pizza and head for home, Kate to manage her son's birthday party, I to rest and recuperate. We've both entered the lottery to get into the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler to be held in May 2010. Kate claims not to have heard me months ago when I told her that MMT is one of the toughest races in the East. She's already in; I'm #87 on the waiting list. My fingers are crossed ...
^z - 2009-12-13