|Sorry, Mr. Brahms! During the later half of my daughter's Friday evening concert I'm dozing, curled up in the back seat of the MINI Cooper. Then drive home, nap a couple of hours, and get up at 1:30am on Saturday morning to prepare. Arrive 0310 at the start-finish zone, take a selfie for evidence, tag the front door of Stedwick Elementary School, activate GPS, and set off.|
The 2014-11-16 Stone Mill 50 miler is a blast. I don't have a goal (other than not to have goals, which I fail to achieve) and it's excellent practice for running alone through the woods in the dark. Who knows when that might come in handy?!
My calendars all show the race as taking place on 22 Nov. During a holiday 11/11 Tuesday morning trail run with friends, however, I learn that it's actually this Saturday, the 15th. Oops! DD has concerts to play in on both Friday and Saturday evenings, and as the only night driver in the household my services are required to schlep her to a 7:30pm call time in Bowie Maryland, 30+ minutes from home. Logistics don't compute, given an official 6am start and the need to allow ~13 hours to go the distance, especially on this year's new mile-longer course.
But hmmmmm — if somehow I can only finish by about 4pm, this just might barely be feasible. A quick note to Race Director Barry Hauptman, explaining the situation and promising to take all responsibility for whatever happens, elicits a friendly response: "Free country. Public lands so start when you want." The game's afoot after all — yay!
At 3:15am a fox crosses Watkins Mill Rd. Temperatures are in the mid-20's.Two pairs of glowing eyes stare and then retreat, big deer lurking in the brush by Seneca Creek Trail at the entrance to the initial out-and-back segment of the course. Frozen dewdrops on dry grass glitter in the headlamp beam like tiny gems. "Ten trillion diamonds" would be an alliterative number to use in a poem, I think to myself — but if there are hundreds of glints every second, and only a few hours until dawn, that multiplies up to only tens of millions, six orders of magnitude short. Oh, well ...
|A last-quarter moon rises by Jupiter and Orion. The only sounds now are my own footsteps, until near mile 2 a loud "plosh!" startles and sends ripples spreading across the water. Trout? Turtle? Whatever! We're all One out here tonight. I pat tree trunks as I pass to stay in touch with the Earth. But no falling-down, please!|
At the Brink Rd-Wightman Rd northern turnaround I cross the intersection and circle the street sign for extra distance, then veer briefly off-course while peering at the phone display to make sure the Runkeeper GPS app is properly activated. Backtrack to find the trail again, and at mile 3 solve the water-noise mystery: a wet-sleek big black beaver turns flat tail toward me and hastily lumbers away at the point where the splash came 15 minutes ago. The same deer as before keep watch from their bushes near Watkins Mill Rd.
Cross the street and proceed downstream at an average pace of ~15 min/mi. At 5am the MD-355 parking lot is empty where an aid station will magically appear in a few more hours. Enter Seneca Creek State Park, closed after dark but with nobody present to enforce the regs. Walk hills and scramble across rocks under bridges that carry I-270, the railroad, and Clopper Rd above the trail. Near mile 12, about 6:30am, go slowly and search for the side path that the race course takes toward Muddy Branch Trail. Once on it, pick up the pace and turn off the headlamp as dawn arrives.
A mile later at Darnestown Rd with water bottles almost empty look through the windows of a Starbucks. Alas, the line stretches all the way across the lobby. Jaywalk to McDonalds on the other side of the street where service is fast, a big coffee costs only $1.68 out of the $5 I carry, and I'm welcome to refill bottles from the fountain. Stow cap in backpack, tie windbreaker around waist, and pause for another selfie to record the impromptu sunrise aid station.
|Trot down the road, finish coffee, and ditch the cup in a trash can by a bus stop. Somewhere along here a Snickers candy bar that was in a loose pocket falls out unseen, leaving only snack-sized Heath Bars for treats plus a few gel packets and a dozen Succeed! electrolyte capsules. At the Muddy Branch Trail entrance a Montgomery County Road Runners truck is just starting to unload card tables and supplies for the official mile 15 aid station. The fastest runners are due to arrive in less than an hour.|
Proceed downstream, looking back at intervals for followers. No falls, but one minor ankle-roll and a couple of arm-waving stumble-recoveries on leaf-covered rocks and tree roots. Cheerful morning dog-walkers pass by in both directions. Water crossings thus far are navigable with dry feet, thanks to stepping-stones and occasional logs.
Good memories abound, as I vector off-course in the same neighborhood where friend Barry Smith and I discovered multiple ways to go astray on a training run last year (cf. 2013-11-02 - Muddy Branch Trail with Barry).
|At Query Mill Rd I recollect the passing cyclists whom friend Stephanie Fonda heard talking about me during the 2012 Stone Mill race (cf. 2012-11-17 - Stone Mill 75k). A small aid station, just getting set up, offers water.|
Near mile 20 the wind rises and I stand under a tree, just to stare upward and marvel as a deluge of ocher leaves swirl down around me. Sometimes the simplest things are the real miracles.
Finally, at 8:40am the leading runner zooms by, moving more than twice as fast as I am. Zowie! He momentarily misses the turn from Esworthy Rd onto the trail, but I shout and he swerves back on course, then vanishes between the trees.
A few miles later Paul Encarnación rings a cowbell and photographs me as I approach River Road. Everybody admires my color-coordinated fashion statement today.
|More fast runners pass, and at Mile 24 the C&O Canal aid station is doing a thriving business. Ed Cacciapaglia furtively pulls out a bottle (no alcohol is allowed in the park here) and I faux-drink pose for photos. Last year at this point it was Maker's Mark whiskey; this time it's Knob Creek.|
Bottles full and pretzels in hand, I trot along the towpath, pausing to admire the rapids on the Potamac River, eye clusters of mallard ducks, and greet a few tourists. Miles 26, 27, and 28 are the fastest of the day, respectively in 10:37, 11:17, and 11:07. At Riley's Lock and the eponymous old Stone Mill the route rejoins Seneca Creek Trail. I snag a hot grilled cheese sandwich and some cookies to begin the journey upstream. Bow hunters abound, about as many here on the southern half of the course as there were deer in the north.
The rest of the day is peaceful, as my pace slows and walk breaks lengthen. I tell runners who pass me their standing until more than 20 have gone by and I lose count. I'm probably not eating enough or taking in enough salts; the Heed electrolyte drink on tap this year doesn't seem to contain much sodium. The kidneys are active though, and whenever I think I'm alone and pause behind a tree, along comes another runner. Feet stay dry until a too-wide tributary stream crossing at mile 40 soaks one of them.
|With five miles to go mental math suggests a finish in enough time to fulfill familial taxi responsibilities tonight; no need to drop out and beg a ride back at an aid station. The real question now becomes: over or under 13 hours? Making that final cutoff time is motivation to push the pace up a few notches and run as much of the familiar hills as feasible.|
When the end is in sight, following earlier instructions I walk around the side of the finish-line shoe-chip sensor mats. But RD Barry and his volunteers just laugh and insist that I cross the regular way. After a brief argument I humor them. My watch says 12:57:52 before and 12:58:35 after our debate ends. The Runkeeper GPS records ~51 miles in 12:59:07, and the official record reads 12:58:24. Whatever! It's all good, as buddy Caren Jew long ago taught me to say.
I snag a slice of cold veggie pizza, slather a bagel with cream cheese, and head for home to shower, change, and drive DW & DD to the next concert. Drowsiness ensues. Sorry, Mr. Rachmaninoff!
^z - 2014-12-14