The wildlife is wild today: before dawn a deer darts across River Road in front of my car as I drive to the ultramarathon. Shortly thereafter I narrowly avoid hitting a large gray hare as it dances past my bumper. During the race a deer runs alongside a group of runners, swerves onto the trail, and knocks down a woman. She has to be carried from the course. A similar freak animal encounter happened in the 2006 Riley's Rumble half marathon. Running usually isn't this hazardous!
How NOT to pace oneself in an ultra? Don't go 11-12 minutes per mile for the first third of the race, then 13-14 min/mi for the next third, and finish up with 15-16 min/mi for most of the rest. That's what I do, and the bonk I experience isn't pretty.
My "plan" for today's event is suboptimal, to put it gently. I start at the back of the pack with good friend Caren Jew, who smartly runs a steady pace and views the race as a 28-mile training run. She finishes in under 6:45, improving her previous time on the course by more than half an hour. (Congratulations, Caren!) In contrast, since conditions are excellent and I'm feeling confident, I decide to attempt the 50k option. That requires a loop around Clopper Lake at mid-course.
In past years I've never made the cutoff for the 50k, so I set off briskly and find myself in the company of runners who are normally far ahead of me. I figure that if all goes well I can circle the water, join up with Caren, and gut out the final 13 miles. Alas, that's not a happening thing: Caren reaches the lake ~10 minutes ahead of me and I'm never able to close the gap. But enough with kvetching! Today's race is really All Good, even though it doesn't always feel that way.
The Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon & 50k is a fine event held on a lovely trail. Kudos to Race Director Ed Schultze and all the volunteers of the MCRRC. Today is a good one for me: I run well, fall down only once, and suffer only minimal damage. On the gravel-road last mile of the course I summon up enough energy to jog rather than walk. In spite of pacing blunders I finish in less than 7 hours — over 15 minutes better than my previous 50k personal record. (cf. HAT Run 2005)
The day begins with light rain showers and gusty winds as a cold front barrels through the region. A last-quarter moon emerges from the clouds. Temperatures are in the 40's but feel rather colder.
I arrive at Riley's Lock on the Potomac River, the endpoint of the race, about 6am and am able to park conveniently close-in. The lot fills quickly: Caren is a few minutes later and is forced to wait far away with comrades Emaad Burki and Michele McLeod. My cellphone sees no signal so we can't locate each other, which disrupts our scheme to ride together out to the start in Damascus. Instead I chat with race officials, fill out a registration form, and eventually take a group bus to the other end of the course, where I join my comrades in line to pay entry fees and get race numbers. After a few minutes we retire to Caren's car to pin on our bibs and make final preparations.
Caren and I talk a bit as we wait for the race to begin. The "GO!" word catches me by surprise and I fumble to reset and start my watch as we dash down the bikepath at the back of the pack. We commence walking at the first tiny hills, to the amusement of our neighbors. Caren settles in to her planned pace as she chats with another woman who vows to fight us for last place. I wish them well and trot ahead, passing several cautious runners. The wooden bridges here are icy in spots but soon we're beyond them and enter the woods.
Along the blue-blazed Magruder Branch trail I push myself and estimate that I'm going perhaps 13 min/mi; after the fact I discover that it was really an unsustainable 11-12 min/mi. I visit with other runners as we line up for the first major stream crossing. Not much later fast Paul Crickard greets me from trailside as he sits on a log and reties his shoes. He tells me that Wayne Carson is only a short distance ahead. That begins to concern me, since I know Wayne is significantly stronger than I am. An energy gel packet on the ground catches my eye. Is it unopened? I stop, backtrack to pick it up, and discover to my joy that it's full. Woot!
Onward I press, taking less than a minute at each aid station to refill my bottles and snag candies/cookies/chips to nibble on the run. My goal is to reach Clopper Lake before the 3.5 hour cutoff, so I can essay the lakeside path to add ~3.4 miles and make the 28 mile "trail marathon" into an official 31+ mile 50k. En route I introduce myself to Marv Bradley, a cheerful retiree visiting the area from Colorado. I ask, and he confesses to have finished marathons in all 50 states (twice!) and is now enjoying ultras around the country. As we approach scenic overlooks I alert Marv so he can take photos. At the old stone railroad bridge we pause and I snap a couple of pix of Marv with his camera. Then we trek onward. Shortly after the 3 hour mark we arrive together at the lake, well ahead of schedule.
After a hasty grab-and-go at the aid station I commence the bonus loop. Suddenly who should appear but Wayne! He's enjoying the course with his friend Jill Owyang from California, a fast young runner. We joke and banter, talk about our past results and upcoming race plans, compare injuries, and commiserate. Wayne has a broken rib from a fall during a training run last month, but it doesn't seem to be hindering him. As usual, much to the amusement of anyone within earshot Wayne and I accuse each other of sandbagging. (That's what you are, but what am I?!)
We reach the midpoint of the race about halfway around the lake and I'm getting tired. I give a Succeed! electrolyte capsule to a runner near me who's starting to suffer cramps. So far I've eaten two or three energy gels and have drunk a couple of quarts of electrolyte blend.
After leading our merry band for a while I drop back. On a muddy downslope near the water I abruptly lose my footing and stumble, then crash to the ground. Fortunately my long sleeves are pulled down, my gloves protect my hands, and I land mainly on my side. Everybody pauses to check on me, but I scramble to my feet and find that I've added only a few scrapes and bruises to my left calf and shoulder. Muddied but unbowed, I continue on. Back at the lake aid station about 45 minutes after starting the loop I learn that Caren has passed through 10 minutes earlier. She's running fast and strong, but I still have hopes of catching up with her. While Wayne and friends pause to eat I head out. As I descend into the woods a voice cries behind me: SANDBAGGER!
Soon Wayne and Co. pass me as I'm forced by fatigue to walk an increasing fraction of the time. Hills are now my friends: they provide an additional excuse for my slow pace. I open a package of Clif Blocks and chew one every five minutes in an attempt to regain my mojo. I've got a pain in my left side that began ten days ago, just above the iliac crest of the left hip. Bursitis? Muscle strain? Tendon or ligament issue? Did the Washington's Birthday Marathon cause it, or was it provoked by reaching around too far behind me in the car while buckled in? Whatever the reason, the problem graduates now from twinge to ache to annoying pain — not bad enough to stop me but significant enough to make ibuprofen a temptation. I resist.
Even though I'm slowing, at intervals I catch up with and pass the walking wounded: fellow bonkees, injury victims, and a few overextended non-50k runners. I keep watch for Caren but hope dims after I join Angelo Witten during a steep climb and learn that she's a mile or more in front of us. At Black Rock Mill I surge ahead through the pine forest. Shortly before Route 28 I meet two women on their first trail marathon. "Tell us it gets better!" they beg. "It does," I encourage them. After saying that I just have to run down the hill to the aid station.
To my surprise Wayne et al. are still there, pausing for a few minutes to enjoy food and fellowship with Don Libes and others. Lyman Jordan takes my picture at the "Peep Show", a cardboard box with marshmallow peeps in it. He warns me that the electrolyte drink here is made using Seneca Creek water. But I figure that nothing too harmful can survive that much sugar and salt, so I refuel and stagger onward. Wayne zips by a few moments later and tells me that a seven hour finish is still feasible. "Then why don't you go for 6:45?" I ask. "Maybe 6:45pm!" one of his companions laughs. "That sounds more like my pace!" I reply. Wayne estimates that we have just a bit over 6 miles to go in 90 minutes to make seven hours. I tell myself that there's more like 7 miles ahead, to avoid disappointment and reduce the pressure on myself to hurry.
Soon another footsore traveler joins me. I point out the pile of manure that tripped me in late January when it was frozen. Instead of taking walk breaks from my running, I now take run breaks from my walking. My average pace is 15-17 min/mi, much as it was for me in 2005 at this point of the SCGTM. I tell myself to strive for a "Taoist state of calm" — it's ok to walk the rest of the way and run only when I feel like it. Golden Oldies tunes play inside my head.
At Berryville Road the volunteers tell me that there are 3 miles more to go, but I think the remaining distance is a bit less. The last major stream crossing here looks daunting to a couple of ladies with me, but I manage to scamper across with only one damp foot. (They watch me and decide to cross further downstream.) The huge hill at mile 29 isn't at all bad, and on the far side of it I hasten to the road for the dash to the finish line. Tom O'Donnell in his Boston Marathon windbreaker and his son Alex in his Marine Corps Marathon outfit are just in front of me. When they start running I feel obligated to chase them. The last mile flows by in a comfortable trot at ~11 min/mi. My official finishing time is 6:56:01, a dozen minutes behind Caren but only 5.5 minutes after Wayne and Jill.
At the post-race feast in the park Jack and Cindy Clark are shivering while they await a ride back to the starting line; they finished more than an hour earlier. Caren and I march them to my car and I turn up the heat. Caren navigates and we entertain Jack & Cindy with our stories. It's a good day all around!
GPS mileages (courtesy of Wayne Carson --- tnx Way-No!) have been rounded to 0.1 mi to allow for trail and measurement variances; all times and paces are approximate.
|Damascus Start to Watkins Rd.||3.3||3.3||36.7||11.1||0:37|
|Watkins Rd. to Huntmaster Rd.||2.7||6.0||32.8||12.0||1:09|
|Huntmaster Rd. to Brink Rd.||1.0||7.0||10.8||11.2||1:20|
|Brink Rd. to Watkins Mill Rd.||1.4||8.4||17.6||12.7||1:38|
|Watkins Mill Rd. to Rt. 355||3.0||11.4||36.8||12.4||2:15|
|Rt. 355 to Lake Aid Station||3.6||15.0||48.2||13.5||3:03|
|Clopper Lake Loop||3.4||18.4||45.6||13.3||3:49|
|Lake Aid Sta. to Riffle Ford Rd.||1.3||19.7||17.7||13.8||4:06|
|Riffle Ford to Germantown Rd.||2.5||22.2||34.8||13.7||4:41|
|Germantown Rd. to Black Rock Rd.||1.5||23.7||22.5||14.7||5:04|
|Black Rock Rd. to Rt. 28||1.2||24.9||19.4||16.2||5:23|
|Rt. 28 to Berryville Rd.||4.1||29.0||61.4||14.8||6:24|
|Berryville Rd. to Seneca Rd.||1.3||30.3||21.3||16.5||6:46|
|Seneca Rd. to Finish Line||0.9||31.2||10.3||11.0||6:56|