"I'm off duty — if you break a leg you'll have to call 9-1-1 yourself!" says Wheaton Rescue Squad member Sakurako, as we run along Kensington sidewalks in rapidly deepening gloom. When we begin our evening circuit it's too bright for Christmas lights to be lit at the Mormon Temple. When we return the traffic jam of cars waiting to see them stretches more than a quarter mile down the hill. A bright red Santa cap catches the eyes of children and adults.
"Have a Klondike Bar!" offers Robin Zimmermann. We accept, with gratitude. Construction work and trail maintenance block our path through Wheaton Regional Park, so ice cream is the midcourse reward. Neighborhood houses feature crawling red-green laser light-show decorations. Sako's first marathon is only two weeks away, so we navigate cautiously by headlamp light. "Don't fall down!".
(trackfile) - ^z - 2017-01-18
"We run these streets!" The Dawn Patrol takes dominion over McLean, striding down the middle of the roads. Cars hesitate to threaten Santa Claus & Co. on Christmas Eve's Eve: a long white beard and red cap with white trim instead provoke thumbs-up salutes by passing drivers. In McLean Central Park we meet runners with half a dozen dogs on leash, eyes glowing in pairs of green, orange, red, white — different colors each.
"There's the garage without a driveway!" Maybe it's for a hovercraft? Front yard holiday decorations range from mega-kitsch-overload to appropriately modest. Animated lights race up tree branches to emulate firework displays. We discuss issues of graceful letting-go of judgments, softening versus increased rigidity with age, mindful challenges in family gatherings. Sunrise glows cerulean and tigerlily along the horizon, as a waning Moon chases Jupiter across the sky. Drs Kristin, Kerry, and Beth wish one another the Happiest of Holidays and the Bestest of New Years!
(trackfile) - ^z - 2017-01-16
"A Gnarly Ball of Personality Disorders!" Dawn Patrol this morning enjoys a beautiful baby-blanket-hued sunrise, electric pinks and pacific blues, as we meander the streets of Pimmit Hills and listen to each other mindfully. Frustrations fade. "Cheaper than therapy!" — and likely far more effective for some. A toppled front-yard flamingo tries to bury its head in the lawn. Inflatable Christmas decorations lie collapsed in flaccid heaps, their air compressors off. Drs Beth & Kerry & Kristin laugh at the world together. "This is what friends are for!"
(trackfile) - ^z - 2017-01-14
"Hot Cocoa?" suggests Kristin. We're brainstorming a codename for another upcoming 100 mile ultramarathon race, a euphemism to use in order to avoid jinxing the performance (see Wikipedia re "The Scottish Play"). Perhaps it should be called "The Coconut Run" — after the Marx Brothers film "The Cocoanuts", coconut oil, and other usages that include the letters "C" & "O"?
Weather has again turned brisk, temps in the lower 30s. Brilliant Christmas lights shift through the spectrum on a Hunting Avenue tree. Dr K reports on the long lines at Children's Hospital on Sunday, kids all with stomach-virus woes. The other 99% of the "conversation" is a recap of weekend fun in Prince William Forest Park, including unmentionable details ("trail talk") that can't appear in the official race report!
(trackfile) - ^z - 2017-01-12
|"Mark, will you come with me?" quietly asks Stephanie, standing by me in the dark.|
It's 0540 on Sunday morning. She's at mile 81.5 of a 101 mile race. Her legs are worn out from slipping on sheets of ice and layers of mud, clambering over roots and rocks, falling down and standing up again, tip-toeing across streams, scrambling up hills and descending into valleys. She's racing the clock and has just made the crucial 24-hour cutoff — but only by 30 minutes. No sleep since 3am the day before. Tummy trouble from chugging energy drinks to stay awake. Dashing through Aid Station checkpoints, constantly pushing the pace. No time to waste if she's going to finish within the final 32 hour limit.
"Of course!" I reply. "Give me five minutes to get ready. And — thank you for asking."
Saturday evening I drop out of the race after taking ~12.5 hours to cover 42 miles, the first two laps of five. I hang around to help at an aid station, applaud runners as they head out, and commiserate with those who, like me, DNF (Did Not Finish). At ~1am on Sunday I give ultra-buddy John Hord a ride homeward, and return at ~3am to nap in front of the fire for a few fitful hours. Dr Stephanie arrives at 0530, speedily changes into dry gear, refills bottles, and prepares to head out.
|The "Devil Dog Ultras" include 100k and 100M runs on the trails of Prince William Forest Park. It all turns out ok, in spite of crazy-wild weather. As King Lear says, "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! ... Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!" The elements do their best, but nonetheless ~70% of the 100k runners and ~40% of the 100 milers finish.|
In a midnight conversation Race Director Toni Aurelio explains the title "Devil Dog" (her husband is a Marine — "Not a retired Marine", I correct her — "he's always a Marine!") and the Aid Station names: "Toofy" is the nickname of her family's "Teufel Hund" ("Devil Dog" in German), "Gunny" is Toofy's brother (and the nickname of every Marine gunnery sergeant), and "Remi" was the mother of both, who sadly died a year ago. Oh, and there are "Devil Dog" creme-filled devils-food cakes at the aid stations. Yummy!
How did we get here? The evening before, Stephanie's daughter teaches me how to make an omelette, and Stephanie teaches me how to tape my feet to prevent blisters. At ~4am on race morning ultra-buddy John Hord meets us. We load gear into Stephanie's van. During the hour-long drive to the race, I take a Vow of Silence. It lasts for only 5 minutes, but my companions find it strangely disturbing. Hmmmmm ... must try this again!
|Initiate ^z Lockdown Mode! Stephanie's orders: for me to have a chance to finish a 100 miler, it's got to be all business. No chasing Pokémon in the woods. No lollygagging at Aid Stations. No selfies by the stream. No stopping to chat with tourists.|
"You've got One Job!" Stephanie admonishes. And perhaps I'll finish that job another year. The ice storm that begins before dawn slows everybody down. Some are strong and brave enough to keep moving fast enough to make the cutoffs. Many are not. Trails are slick; falls and injuries abound. Park roads become sheets of black ice. Runners get down on all fours to crawl across. Cars can't get in to set up at least one aid station.
"Like a billion jewels on all the twigs!" The sun comes out mid-afternoon and glitters off the forest canopy. Ice melts from the trees and drips onto runners. Narrow trails turn to slippery mud.
Speed-walking together, Stephanie and I talk. A lot. A pacer becomes a metaphor for a life-friend, a helper-guide and fellow-traveler, a Buddha-Buddy on the quest for awakening. The silly Magical Unicorn Oracle card drawn a day before the event, as weather forecasts become increasingly grim, gives the not-so-silly advice, "Wait Until Morning". The random card picked for the race itself reads simply: "Love".
Splits (Lap 1 = 22.5 miles, Laps 2-5 = 19.5 miles each):
|Lap||SF Time||SF Pace||^z Time||^z Pace||Comments|
|1||5.9 hours||15.7 min/mi||6.5 hours||17.3 min/mi||mostly ice|
|2||5.1 hours||15.7 min/mi||6.0 hours||18.5 min/mi||mostly mud|
|3||5.9 hours||18.2 min/mi||-||-||darkness|
|4||6.3 hours||19.4 min/mi||-||-||darkness|
|5||7.7 hours||23.7 min/mi||7.7 hours||23.7 min/mi||together|
At Mile 22.5 ultra-friend Janet Choi records a two-minute video interview with me. The transcript:
|JC - How's it going? I want to do an interview!|
^z - OK, but don't take a picture of me without my shirt on!
JC - Oh, I already did.
^z - Ah!
JC - No, wait. From the neck up! There you go.
^z - Ha, ha, ha!
JC - So, you just did 23. How was it? Icy out there!
^z - All is well!
JC - Did you fall?
^z - A few times, but not horribly.
JC - And you're feeling good?
^z - Bruised, but unbroken!
JC - So you're going to come through here every 23 miles or so?
^z - 19 and a half, actually.
JC - OK.
^z - Are you filming?
JC - I am; it's an interview!
^z - Wow!
JC - You know, I only do this for the elite athletes.
^z - Well, I haven't signed a model release so you're going to have to negotiate with my agent.
JC - Did your beard freeze?
^z - My beard? Yes, there were icicles on it, but they've melted.
JC - You're feeling good? Your feet are good?
^z - Feet are 90% ok, a little rub on the left foot. I've gotta get outta here!
JC - Can I help you with anything?
^z - Thank you so much. If you wouldn't mind, seal up this bag.
JC - I can do that, I can do that.
^z - Now windbreaker, get my gloves, put the pack on, fill the pockets, and I'm outta here!
JC - All right! I'll seal that.
^z - Thank you, thank you, thank you!
JC - You're going good!
^z - May not need the windbreaker, but it might get chilly. Is the wind supposed to pick up?
JC - I don't think so, but it's going to get warmer.
^z - Warmer is good, but, well ...
JC - It was sheets of ice this morning! I don't know how you guys even ran on that.
^z - A lot of people fell; a lot of people went slow. But we're OK.
JC - All right!
^z - Thank you for being here, Janet. And you ... Jeff?
JC - No, it's Sean.
^z - Sean, Sean, Sean. I'm so bad with names, so horrible.
JC - No, you've got a lot going on.
^z - Thank you!
JC - OK, good job! Woo-hoo! Go, Mark!
^z - Bye! <waves>
(for other 100 miler DNFs see 2010-05-15 - Half Massanutten Mountain Trails, 2012-04-07 - Philly 100 Endurance Run, 2013-04-27 - C-and-O Canal 100 DNF, 2013-10-12 - Tesla-Hertz Run - 100 Miler DNF, 2014-04-26 - CO Canal 100 Miler DNF, 2015-03-28 - Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run (75 mile DNF), ...) - ^z - 2017-01-10
"... happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance ...". The Dawn Patrol remembers George Washington's 1790 letter "To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island". A college friend, Jewish immigrant from South Africa, is fearful. We hope for peace and safety for all, as did our first President.
"Somehow it seemed so much bigger in Paris!" The Eiffel Tower stands in a McLean front yard, lit white near other holiday decorations. Cait declines the opportunity to pose by it; Kerry and Kristin chuckle. We miss a connecting path, explore Hooking Road to its end, then backtrack. Brisk winds and temps in the upper 20s make for a chilly trek.
"Smoke and mirrors!" and "A shell game!" are some semi-cynical assessments of a recent corporate lecture on salary issues. Compensation is a human system, with imprecise and subjective elements but noble goals: fairness and long-term group good. Justice is tough to achieve — we must all keep trying!
(trackfile) - ^z - 2017-01-08
"In the middle of the night, if you're thinking about quitting just remember that you are our inspiration!" Drs K&K prepare to apply the three levers of peer pressure, guilt, and shame, in anticipation of a 100 miler scheduled for Prince William Forest Park in 10 days. We'll see how well that works!
"Scrambled Legs" is a new running group at the office, preparing for a springtime half-marathon. Kerry and Kristin discuss possible training with them, perhaps segments of longer Dawn Patrol runs. We loop through McLean, critique a flashing Santa Claus, greet early morning walkers, and enjoy a newly-resurfaced asphalt path. A neighbor friend who grew up with Kerry's daughter awaits the school bus. As we finish a brilliant sunrise begins. Lovely!
(trackfile) - ^z - 2017-01-06
"All that is old becomes new again!" — or maybe, "Have we been here before? I don't remember!" The Early Xmas McLean Dawn Lawn Decoration Survey rediscovers a Santa with polychromatic-glowing hot-air balloon instead of sleigh, supplemented with drifting red-green laser light-show and giant flickering lollipops.
We meander, loop, and eventually find ourselves. It's cool and damp with puddles left by overnight rain. Kristin reports on a busy-good weekend with minimal soreness after Friday's 30 miler. We share reminders to practice self-compassion — tough as that is given all the confusion, need, and sadness in the world. Sometimes it's so hard to be one's own best friend, and to refrain from trying to "fix" everything. But "it is what it is", and that's ok!
(trackfile) - ^z - 2017-01-04
"Some were better!" Dr Mary acknowledges Framer George Mason's great gifts to the early USA, but notes that others did more — and didn't own slaves. We ramble upstream along Northwest Branch Trail, enjoying the crisp morning and greeting cute dogs out walking their masters. Conversation covers psychology and plumbing, politics and sinusitis, whaling and mindfulness.
"Three sugar cubes?" At Wheaton Park Stables a kind equestrian instructor gives us something to boost blood sugar. A girl rides slowly around the indoor dressage arena. The octagonal sign on the road outside says "WHOA" instead of "STOP". We meander past the Brookside Nature Center and return via the left bank of the stream, a much hillier route with more tributary rills to cross, some via stepping-stones and others over small logs.
Finisher rewards: lunch at California Tortilla and grocery shopping at Trader Joe's!
(trackfile) - ^z - 2017-01-02
|"A few years ago my fantasy was to lace up my shoes, go out, and run 20 miles without it being anything special. I never dreamed of doing it the day after running 30!" Three white-tailed deer cross the trail in front of Dr Stephanie. We're in Prince William Forest Park at sunrise, previewing the course of the Race That Shall Not Be Named.|
"Beware the Widowmaker!" Gusty winds sway trees. Half-fallen branches creek and groan, like a giant's violin bow scraping across rusty strings. Leaves blanket the earth. Stephanie trips on a hidden rock and falls hard, scraping a hip; I stumble on a concealed root and go down, tearing up a hand. We turn left instead of right and trot half a mile off course down Old Blacktop Road. I lose a glove. Our feet hurt. And It's All Good! (And Dr SF finds my glove!)
|"Is it Boxer Day?" Beautiful big brown dogs tug their owners along the trail. We start at 7:12am, ahead of the main group of runners but far behind Lucas who began solo in the dark. We find his aid-station-cooler in the woods, refuel, and text him thanks.|
"You're going the wrong way!" A speedy trio that passed us earlier is stopped at mile 15, confused at a trail intersection. They set off purposefully, but we call them back, turn their map around, show them where they are, and send them along the proper direction. Soon they're out of sight again.
"Let's try to be, not just to do!" We resolve not to obsess about achievement, not to worry so much about mileage, not to fret about the future. The shorter trail back is good, even if it leaves us under 18 miles. We give ourselves a gift of time to breathe, to think, to share stories, to take photos, to appreciate the beauty around us, and to get home and relax before starting to work on family duties. We're worth it!
(trackfile) - ^z - 2016-12-31