"Eeew!" A flat snake decorates Beach Drive at mile 4.5 of our trek. This morning after a tardy start from home I'm last to arrive at the Candy Cane City parking lot, in the brown loaner MINI Cooper while the black one is in the shop. Rebecca Rosenberg is just ahead of me, and Jennifer Weiland and Ken Swab are already waiting. We trot down Rock Creek Trail and then Beach Dr to tag the barrier gate at Broad Branch Rd. Ken channels various other friends in doing crudely funny commentary. Rebecca recommends the movie The Mighty Macs. As we approach the DC line on our return journey, Sara Crum suddenly appears running toward us; she had a late start due to scheduled-then-canceled athletic events for her kids. Runkeeper concurs roughly with Garmin GPS splits of 11:18 + 10:25 + 9:58 + 12:26 + 9:49 + 10:41 + 10:40 + 10:48 + 11:46 + 10:18.
^z - 2013-05-13
4 cyclists + 3 other runners + 2 clusters of noisy kids + 1 scampering rabbit = a fun run in the dark from McLean to Silver Spring. Sara Crum has invited comrades to her lovely home for a potluck dinner and conversation about the upcoming Bighorn trail race in Wyoming that several of them plan to participate in. Jennifer Weiland, Jennifer Sample, Ken Swab, and Barry Smith bring spouses and friends and kids. I hitch a ride with Barry in order to practice eating following by running in the nighttime. After too much feasting I thank our hosts and slip out a little after 9pm.
The jog out of Sara's neighborhood is brief, and from then onward I'm more-or-less repeating two prior runs, 2007-05-25 - Home Run Meltdown and 2010-03-12 - Homeward Bound. This time, though, it's dark and the journey is spookier. The shoulder of VA-123 (Dolley Madison Hwy) feels narrow, so I try to run on the grass when cars zoom past. At the GW Memorial Parkway I cross and take the natural-surface Potomac Heritage Trail through the woods.
A rabbit scampers away from my flashlight beam, as startled by me as I am by it. Careful treading, to avoid a game-ending stumble on rock or root, now slows the pace. Heavy rains yesterday make Pimmit Run rather high, so at mile 2 I get soggy socks crossing when some of the stepping stones are submerged. A nighttime fisherman greets me at the Virginia end of Chain Bridge. After crossing the Potomac into DC I hesitate, then during a gap between cars dart across the Clara Barton Parkway and scramble up the steep path to join the Capital Crescent Trail near milepost 7.
"On your left," a cyclist without lights warns me as he zips by. Tired now, I start taking a ~1 minute walk break every ~5 minutes. Half a dozen noisy young men are walking near the trail at the River Rd bridge. Another small crew hangs out at the eastern end of the tunnel under Wisconsin Av in Bethesda. My pace improves as I home nears. Runkeeper roughly agrees with Garmin GPS splits of 10:51 + 17:34 + 15:48 + 10:41 + 11:21 + 11:12 + 10:46 + 10:14 + 10:53 + 10:52 and a final fractional dash at 10:21 min/mi.
At 11:14pm when I arrive at the front steps, who is sitting there but DS Merle?! He forgot his house key, so after a friend drops him off he walks a couple of miles to Wheaton Plaza, buys a towel to wrap around himself against the cold, and walks back. He hasn't been waiting too long, he says. As I let him in who should pull up in the car but DW Paulette & DD Gray? They return from the Metro which they took downtown to a concert at the Library of Congress. DS Robin is still away, playing Dungeons & Dragons in the College Park area.
^z - 2013-05-15
|Bottom line: 12 hours 29 minutes for my sixth BRR, accompanying audacious Dr Stephanie Fonda who finishes strong in her third and toughest ultramarathon. It's also her best ultra, with steady progress throughout and far fewer problems with feet, knees, digestion, blisters, etc. than on earlier long treks. Perhaps the mini Heath Bars that she consumes every 5-10 miles are the secret? Or maybe smart training, proper hydration, meticulous electrolyte management, and conservative pacing? Or is it, as Stephanie promises during our previous long training run "I'm doing something new at Bull Run. I'm not doing anything new!" — so credit goes to no wacky experiments this time with new shoes, new stride, new foods? (It certainly isn't my nonstop monologue, eh?)|
But on the Thursday evening before BRR I manage to break one of own my cardinal rules, "Protect your feet before a big event." Foolishly barefoot at home in the dining room, I brush my right foot across the hardwood floor and get a splinter in the sole — yow! But fortunately it's only a few millimeters long, and after hobbling around the house I find a magnifying glass and tweezer, and eventually manage to extract the offending sliver. Whew!
Stephanie gets to run the Bull Run Run this year against all odds. She makes it off the waiting list literally during the final few hours before the deadline. It happens much to my surprise, since until the day before I confidently predict that few people would drop out who were ahead of her, and thus she could volunteer at an aid station and count on receiving a high priority for next year's BRR as one who didn't get in. My bad!
In the Hemlock Overlook lodge before the race begins I meet young Jean Kim, preparing for her first ultra. We chat and I give her a pace card I've made, along with encouraging words. Jean follows Stephanie and me for the first several miles, but then we lose sight of her, and sadly she apparently DNFs. Also before the start I greet friendly veterans Caroline Williams and Gary Knipling. Both salute me with fist-bumps.
|Today's weather is somewhat warm, with temperatures rising from the upper 40's into the upper 60's during the day, rather uncomfortable especially when the sun hammers us and breezes pause. My fingers swell up, but not horribly so. Stephanie's do likewise. We take S! electrolyte capsules and Clif Shot energy gels at intervals, drink water from our hydration backpacks whenever we remember to, and nibble on salty treats from the aid stations.|
Fields of lovely bluebell flowers border most of the first 16 miles of trail, the upstream out-and-back part of the BRR course. We go slowly and hold our pace down to 14-15 min/mi. That proves to be a proper tactic today. We make all the cutoffs quite comfortably with 30-45 minutes to spare, and are able to take long walk breaks during the final stages when fatigue begins to set in. As I so often say, "It all turns out OK!"
A red Mophie battery pack charges my iPhone during the run, since otherwise it would have run out of power before the finish. A new Garmin model 910XT, bought after Stephanie's experience with another Garmin extended-battery-life GPS, works well. Both GPS systems diverge by a few percent from each other and both suggest that the course wasn't as long as the official numbers. No matter! See Garmin and Runkeeper for detailed trackfiles and splits.
(photo of ^z by Aaron Schwarzbard)
|"And that will up-regulate the beta oxidative cycle!" A tall fellow is cruising near Stephanie and me during the first part of BRR. We introduce ourselves and commence one of the most technical conversations perhaps to have occurred during an ultramarathon. The gentleman is D. Marshall Porterfield, Purdue University professor who's serving as a NASA project administrator now. Marshall is also an Ironman and a veteran of multiple 100 mile trail runs.|
Stephanie and Marshall discuss diet, diabetes, intermittent fasting, epidemiology and biomedical experimentation during miles 13-16 as we return from the northern turnaround to the Hemlock Overlock start/finish area. A few miles later Marshall pauses to point out a near-perfectly-camouflaged frog on the trail. It looks precisely like a lump of lichen, but with two big beady eyes that watch us. Marshall runs on, and finishes ahead of us in spite of serious knee issues.
|Scary adrenaline-surge moment: at mile 17 during the descent from Hemlock Overlook back to the stream, Stephanie trips on a root or rock and takes a serious fall. It could have been a game-ending face plant. But fortunately, as Stephanie tells it, her (uh) generous (ah) endowment (um) cushions the impact and saves her from a broken nose. A volunteer ahead of us and a runner behind both hear the fall but don't witness it directly. Stephanie emerges with big scrapes on right arm and left leg, as well as a sudden headache and as a badly bruised nose.|
The rest of the race is, thankfully, less eventful. At mile ~25 Stephanie notices little yellow dots covering my face and scalp — seeds from some bush that I brushed against. Coconut-flavored ice pops at an aid station are welcome refreshment and remind us of an in-joke. In the DO LOOP segment of the course, on one of the old rusty car hulks, a giant inflatable "Hello Kitty" balloon bows to us, as Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" plays on a boom box.
Deep in the woods Stephanie suddenly hears a big tree branch crash to the ground. Thereafter, every time a widow-maker crackles in the wind she jumps. At one point she is so certain that a limb is plummeting to kill us that she covers her head, cowers, and shouts, "Where is it, Mark? Where is it?" Fortunately, nothing seriously threatens, though around mile 40 I feel something bite me on the left shoulder. Frenzied swatting and pinching eventually stops the attack. When I peel back my shirt the creature turns out to be an iridescent emerald-green ant-like insect. Ouch!
As we proceed downstream fast young Keith Knipling greets us as he heads northward on the return trip, a dozen or so miles ahead of us. A few weeks ago Stephanie and I followed his progress at the legendary Barkley Marathons. We step aside and salute him as he passes.
About mile 43 Stephanie and I catch up with Andrew Harter, who is badly dehydrated. Apparently he's trying to do the run without a bottle, a dangerous gambit. Stephanie and I offer him water from our backpacks, and he drinks from mine like a camel, makes it to the Marina aid station, soaks up more fluids there, and successfully finishes just behind us.
In the final segment of the race we meet Shelley Cable. She and Stephanie engage in a rather clinical discussion of breast-feeding, including a friendly competition as to who stayed the course longer for their nursing babies. The duel concludes with a mutual fist-bump celebration. Go Mamas!
(photo of ^z by Aaron Schwarzbard)
|Just before we turn to make the steep final climb to Hemlock Overlook Stephanie spots a lovely Great Blue Heron standing in Bull Run. As we approach the finish line we talk about "Accumulating Positives" and how fortunate we both are to be able to do such an awesome thing as run 50 miles in the woods together. Sweet!|
Kilt-clad comrade Mike Edwards is the organizer of Team Rocket, "the team dedicated to doing evil with Pokemon". We win the Slowest Team Award by a good margin, thanks in part to Mike's waiting several minutes for us just before the home stretch. The official results show:
Mike goes far beyond the call of duty: he picks me up at my home at 4:30am for the drive to the race, and gives both Stephanie and me a ride home afterwards. Bravo, Sir!
|"I'm doing something new at Bull Run," Stephanie Fonda promises. "I'm not doing anything new!" In other words, instead of experimenting during a tough 50 miler with untested gear, food, foot placement, shoe style, etc., this time for a change Stephanie promises to stick to the tried-and-true. Good idea — and the self-referential nature of the line echoes a mini-lecture I gave earlier today on Gödel's Theorem and its self-referential proof of mathematical incompleteness.|
Today is a final major trek before Bull Run Run, six days in the future. Stephanie made it off the Wait List and into the race only during the final hours last night before the deadline. And for both of us, BRR is really just a training run. I'm preparing for the C&O Canal 100 miler at the end of the month, and Stephanie is running the Pittsburgh Marathon early in May. Yes, it's rather audacious (or foolish?) to do a major ultra so close to a goal race, but hey, audacity apparently is a character trait (or fault) we share.
I arrive ~7am via #5 bus to Chez Fonda in Kensington. It's cool, temps in upper 30's or low 40's, with a brisk south wind. Family cat Lava rises onto hind legs and rubs against my hand. Family dog Duck sniffs me as we prepare to go. After a pause to get GPS satellite locks we're on our way, along Strathmore a mile to the Bethesda Trolley Trail (BTT), pausing at the Volunteer Fire Station for photographs by the "LEARN NOT TO BURN" sign. Then onward it is, to downtown Bethesda where Stephanie reminds me to eat and drink. At mile ~5 we join the Capital Crescent trail (CCT). We take walk breaks from the start and try to hold our pace to ~13 min/mi. "It's still too fast for Bull Run," I note, "but I know you can't stand to go any slower!"
Much trail talk ensues, including hypomanic chatter from me despite repeated promises to bite my tongue and stop havering. Stephanie promotes the virtues of toe strike; I concur with the suggestion that "running gently" with a light stride is helpful too. We discuss meditative-awareness mindfulness techniques. Stephanie recommends observing while not reacting, remaining nonjudgmental, and "Accumulating Positives" such as happy memories. I mention the "Notice and Return" and "Softening into Experience" mantras which I've found helpful during hard races and other stressful circumstances. Stephanie tells me about the Nova/PBS special "Decoding Dogs" and recommends it, as well as "Rat Attack". I comment on issues of lower-case-buddhism, the thesis of Stephen Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs and much of Jon Kabat-Zinn's writings. Is it still the same religion if one subtracts karma, reincarnation, and other mysticism? Hard to say, but that's the topic of Owen Flanagan's Bodhisattva's Brain, a book that I'm just beginning to read.
|Both Stephanie and I are still in awe of the Barkley Marathons finishers this year, Nick Hollon and Travis Wildeboer. We fantasize about doing a single Barkley 20 mile loop. I confess to a gentle obsession focusing on The Ring at Massanutten Mountain. We discuss Michael Wardian's be-tough-on-yourself training regime ("I usually don't eat or drink too much on runs as I like to train in the worst possible condition, so on race day, when I have water and PowerGel, it really works.")|
Lots of cute dogs are out on walks today, as are lots of cute fast runners (not to mention cyclists) who zip past as we walk every ~5 minutes or on small hills. At McDonalds in Bethesda, mile 7, we enjoy the facilities and pick up a Senior Coffee (price $0.85), as much for warmth as for caffeine. Stephanie recommends coconut oil for dry skin, and we discuss experiments with Metamucil (psyllium) to possibly reduce cholesterol.
At Fletcher's Boathouse near our mile ~11 we go down to the river to take photos and dip fingers into the water. Airplanes flying into National Airport cruise low over the Potomac River, and Stephanie suggests crossing into Virginia and going to the Marina (Gravelly Point) to lie directly under the Final Approach flight path. I'm reminded of the scene in the movie "Wayne's World" (though I can't remember the movie title at that moment) where Wayne and Garth lie on the hood of their car in an analogous location. We play leapfrog with ladies walking and running on the CCT as we approach Georgetown.
Now Cherry Blossom street closures and crowds slow our progress. We proceed to the Lincoln Memorial and at mile ~15 take photos of each other inside, then pause to touch the engraved marker on the step where Martin Luther King Jr. stood during his "I Have a Dream" speech. East then past the Washington Monument, we miss the chance to visit the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial and the National Science Foundation Einstein Statue — another time, I promise.
"Yeah!" Stephanie says, in faux New York City accent, when her GPS rolls over to 16 miles. We then accelerate for a fast mile 17 along the north side of the national Mall. As we approach Union Station I suggest stopping our GPS's at mile 17.5, but Stephanie insists on a detour to reach 18.0 total.
Au Bon Pain provides coffee, and after phone calls/texts to family we take the subway back to Grosvenor and walk toward Stephanie's place, so she can get ready to visit a sick friend in the hospital. Charlie, Stephanie's husband, sees me waiting at the bus stop as he heads out for an errand. He kindly offers me a ride, and I thank him but decline. Bottom line: I'm down 3 lbs. from dehydration, but feel great. "It turned out OK," as I always say — another fine run with a fine friend!
^z - 2013-05-02
Sweat washes sunscreen into my eyes. The trek down the Metropolitan Branch Trail begins from home at 9:30am. I'm taking the first day off work in a long time; at last I'm approaching use-or-lose territory in the office leave ledger. Temperatures are properly spring-like after a chilly spell, and soon the sleeves are rolled up. No water fountains are working along the route, so I sip cautiously from the single bottle I carry and nibble a Clif Mojo Bar.
Construction blocks a street at Catholic University and forces a detour around a couple of blocks. The mural on the wall outside The Dance Place is repainted: sadly, the comely high-kicking lady that I loved is replaced by a less-eye-catching motley crew. I pause to photograph the new artwork, then accelerate to sprint in honor of Stephanie Fonda's 8:17 at mile 10 near the NoMa Metro station. The Garmin wrist GPS clocks me at 8:11, but Runkeeper is offset and says 8:01.
At Union Station I wander indoors for a few minutes and finally find a working water fountain to refill my bottle. DS Merle texts me and DS Robin phones to suggest a lunch at Jerry's when I return. The shortest route home is up Massachusetts Avenue. In the center of Mount Vernon Square the Washington Public Library donated by Andrew Carnegie is worth pausing to photograph. Behind the benches outside the southern entrance are the words "A VIVERSITY FOR THE PEOPLE". High above the door it says "THIS BVILDING A GIFT OF ANDREW CARNEGIE", "WASHINGTON PVBLIC LIBRARY", and "DEDICATED TO THE DIFFVSION OF KNOWLEDGE". Beneath them the inscription reads "SCIENCE - POETRY - HISTORY". A beautiful structure!
Pauses at traffic lights are minor, but now I'm starting to feel seriously dehydrated. A young woman runs past as we climb Meridian Hill and vanishes into the distance. Walk breaks begin at five minute intervals, then stretch to include anything that looks like an ascent. Metrobuses tempt me to catch a ride. I ponder the possibility of entering a church or knocking on a front door to beg for water. But at last the tall apartment towers in Silver Spring come into view, and I decide to keep on hiking home. My weight is down 4 lbs. Note to self: carry more water!
Runkeeper splits are 9:35 + 10:28 + 8:48 + 9:12 + 9:27 + 10:38 + 9:11 + 9:42 + 10:41 (taking photos at The Dance Place) + 8:01 (blitzing!) + 12:00 (seeking water in Union Station) + 9:41 + 11:49 (taking photos of the Carnegie Library) + 9:50 + 9:57 + 10:45 + 9:56 + 10:49 + 12:05 (increasingly dehydrated) + 12:49 + final fraction at 11:47 min/mi pace. The Garmin data is similar.
At dawn on the last near-freezing morning of spring Ed Brown begins in the lead. Kerry Buckley and Kristin Heckman soon move ahead, however, laughing and chatting. They kindly wait for Ed and me to catch up at each corner. I argue the merits of speedwork. Ed tells of his personal trainer and gymnasium exercise regime. Runkeeper and Garmin GPS concur on distance and pace.
^z - 2013-04-22
"Is that Jesus?" asks a little kid in soccer class as I zip past on my first lap around the lovely rubber-surfaced Bowie High School track. I wave a blessing at him. Before the sun sets there's time for half a dozen 400 meter intervals: 1:43 + 1:39 + 1:39 + 1:37 + 1:39 + 1:36, that last one close to the Puke Point. Taco Bell down the street soon settles my tummy. DW's rehearsal is in the nearby auditorium at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts. Runkeeper and Garmin show the oval.
^z - 2013-04-19
Cara Marie Manlandro is back for Easter weekend from finishing-up-the-dissertation work in Milwaukee, so at 6:44am we start running at her home. CM hasn't been able to run much on the icy sidewalks — she reports seeing "-10° F" on her car dashboard thermometer one frigid morning — but she's in pretty good shape thanks to her private gym. The facility actually is for general use, but thus far nobody else has ever used it in her experience, at any time of day. Nor do comrades at the University of Wisconsin Medical School climb the stairs or do much other visible activity. Milwaukee is, however, noteworthy for beer, and CM remarks on the freeway that runs through a Miller brewery. She is proud to have maintained her low weight, in spite of all this. We trot along, take walk breaks, and reminisce about races and training runs together. A crimson sunrise gleams through clouds. At the end of Indianola Dr a deer leaps fences and dances through back yards. Garmin GPS and Runkeeper trackfiles concur.
^z - 2013-04-17
|Barry Smith and Stephanie Fonda wear coincidentally similar Annapolis Strider outfits this chilly morning when I meet them. We're north of Massachusetts Av on the Capital Crescent Trail, and I'm coming back toward Bethesda with Gayatri Datta and Sam (Sandra) Yerkes about 7:45am. I've jogged here from home starting before dawn. By this point my fingers are already too weak to tear open a blueberry Luna Bar package. Stephanie attacks the wrapper for me.|
We cruise down the CCT together, passed by flocks of MCRRC training group runners. Most of the water fountains are turned off. At Fletcher's Boathouse we wait in line to buy liquids, but after five minutes of no progress we give up and proceed down to the Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown. There, a garden hose answers our needs. Stephanie points out a tree full of cormorants over the Potomac River. She tells of time spent in the western US desert, and the song "Horse With No Name" plays in my head. Barry identifies the band as America, and reports having seen them perform live.
Stephanie is interested in possible anti-cholesterol effects of psyllium, the main ingredient of the laxative Metamucil, and suggests that Barry and I be her experimental subjects in a study of it. We hesitate to volunteer, especially before a long run. As we turn the corner at the Kennedy Center to proceed up Rock Creek Parkway to join the C&O Canal at its beginning, who should greet us but Hilary Swab and her fiancé? "Makes a day great," I tell Barry and Stephanie, "when somebody who knows you spots you so far from home!" We pass a field of daffodils, and when Barry says he's tired and wants to rest, I suggest, "Why don't you lie down and wave your arms to make daffodil angels?!" (see Narcissus Silhouette)
We trot along Georgetown sidewalks, crossing streets cautiously. A runner in a black shirt looks tired as we overtake him. I offer help, and he declines but thanks me. A block later as we're all climbing to the bridge to cross to the other side of the canal he passes us. I see that it's a Boston Athletic Association top he has on, and whisper to him that I've just BQ'd. He did it in 2011, when he turned 50. Stephanie tells an anecdote re testosterone and its effects on brain chemistry in addition to muscle-building. I mention an over-the-top Andrew Sullivan essay in the New York Times that stuck in my mind from 13 years ago. Barry and Stephanie discuss their plans to run the Bighorn 50k in a few months, and the possibility of driving there via the Lewis & Clark expedition route — a long road trip!
At Fletcher's Boathouse I find a corroded cent on the ground. We take walk breaks as needed. When the GPS says a little over 17.5 miles we could stop, but Barry insists on a few extra blocks to make it 18. "It looks better that way!" We comply. Barry kindly gives me a ride home. We listen to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!", a comic radio program on NPR, which he and Stephanie had mentioned during our trek. Runkeeper and Garmin logfiles agree to within ~0.5%.
^z - 2013-04-15
Feel tired after work when I arrive home. Nap, or run? After a mile I wake up a bit and begin to push the pace, for splits by Runkeeper of 9:08 + 8:25 + 9:02 + 7:58 + 8:50 + 8:54 + a final partial mile at 8:48 min/mi pace. Swing by Jennings Ct where there's a house DW has her eye on, only half a mile or so from the Wheaton Metro station. Elevation graph shows a peak at the corner of University and Veirs Mill, with the Mormon Temple hill on Stoneybrook relatively minor by comparison. Steep climb home via Forsythe Av is rough. Step aside for a #4 RideOn bus to pass by, run on the shoulder for other traffic. Garmin is in close agreement with the iPhone GPS.
^z - 2013-04-12