2010-11-07 - Potomac Heritage 50k

~28.7 miles @ ~15.1 min/mi

"Was what you were doing under the American Legion Bridge a political statement?" Mike Bur asks when he and his wife Laura and their big dog Scooby see me near mile 18 of the PHT.

"No, I was just leaving evidence to show I was there," I reply. "I hope you didn't take any pictures!"

The Official Results are on the VHTRC web site; see Potomac Heritage Trail 50k 2010 for my quick summary of the event with photos. If the GPS is anywhere near correct the actual distance is ~46k, but since the mile/dollar ratio is infinite in this free fun run who cares? We start at Kerry Owens's home in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington DC. Doug Sullivan writes my "bib number" in bold black marker on the back of my right hand when I sign in: 99. "May I be 999?" I request, with the obvious plan in mind to display it upside-down at every opportunity. Doug says no.

In the Beginning

We set off on the street in front of Kerry's townhouse, after a thoughtful moment in honor of Mike Broderick, a local ultrarunner and coach who died of lung cancer a few days ago. Near the back of the pack I thank Laura Bur for the veggie soup she made for runners at the 2010-10-23 - Quad State Quad Buster. Mike promises to post QSQB race results soon and agrees with my estimate that I was DFL of ~15 finishers. I trot onward and meet Bill Grauer, who claims to be a fan of the ^zhurnal. I explain that all materials here are lies, forgeries, or both.

Lucia Davidson and Pam Gowen visit with me, and then I run with Anstr Davidson who tells me about his experiences playing football for Pomona against Caltech, my alma mater. He still remembers delivering a bruising block to his wimpy 'Tech opponent. "I felt about 20% guilty and 80% proud!" he says. The JFK 50 miler is coming in a fortnight, and Anstr has a streak going—he's finished it 27 years in a row. He expresses a desire to sign off some day, maybe when he gets to JFK #30. I point out that 28 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14 is a Perfect Number, the sum of its divisors. Maybe this year is a good stopping point?

Ordeals and Temptations

In the PHT there are various "bonus" activities to do, in order to get a subtraction from your supposed time. (It's all a game in any case.) At AS #1 I tweet, then swallow a small donut to gain a 1 minute credit. With a handful of Halloween candy I blast off, leaving Anstr behind. Solo now, I fear that I've gone off course in the woods but a dog-walker I meet tells me that lots of runners are ahead. Doug Sullivan materializes again, marking the return course, and reassures me.

Approaching the stream-tunnel under Macarthur Blvd young Joe Hanle hails me from a side trail; he went off track, not expecting to have to follow the creek. I lead him through the tunnel, over the man-hostile wooden fence, and past Fletchers Boathouse to the C&O Canal towpath. I also advise Joe on how to find the turn onto Key Bridge. Anstr and Lucia and Pam emerge behind us at the tunnel. Joe blitzes ahead of me, but soon I see him again on the opposite side of Key Bridge. He must have gone slightly astray.

Some miles later a female voice from nowhere startles me. "Can you do me a favor?" it asks, as I'm trekking along the southern bank of the Potomac River near mile 10. I look around and see a young lady in a long narrow boat paddling down the river.

"Well that depends," I equivocate, wondering whether she wants me to jump into the water and swim to her. Not that I wouldn't, mind you—but I would need an incentive. Fortunately she's no naiad and her request doesn't involve getting me wet.

"My friends are hiking along, ten minutes or so ahead of you," she says. "It's too windy and I can't wait for them in the cove. Tell them that 'Caroline the Sculler' hasn't drowned and is waiting for them downstream." I promise to relay the message, and as predicted meet her buddies a little farther along the trail.

At Turkey Run (AS #4 outbound, mile ~15.7) I accept an egg to carry to the American Legion Bridge and back for another bonus time credit. "But you have to carry it in your mouth!" the race official teases me, but then let me put it in my pocket. Gary Knipling refuses my offer to trade eggs with him; I tell him that if we did swap I was going to smash his. He confesses to having a secret plan, and at the end of the race he tells me what it was: at Turkey Run on the return trip Gary and Quatro Hubbard throw eggs at their buddy David Snipes. They lose their time bonus but gain great joy.


About mile 22 in the woods near Ft Marcy I pass a young lady, Cathy Wright, who is limping along with bad knee pain in this her first ultramarathon experience. She takes four ibuprofen from my stash and thanks me. A mile later I see Joe Hanle again, who had anticipated that he could run almost as fast on the trail as on road, turned back early, has a work deadline to make, and is worried about being late. He declines my offer of a cellphone but drops at the next aid station so he can get to work on time.

Earlier in the race I leave voicemail for injured comrade Kate Abbott, telling her that at the Chain Bridge Aid Station I met Cathy, her physical therapist Farouk's assistant. Cathy comments on how incredibly tough Kate is, and wishes her a speedy recovery. So do several other runners who know Kate and miss seeing her. Kate calls me as I arrive again at Chain Bridge; I speak with her a bit as I cross over the Potomac River into DC. I'm passing more people now, one guy on the bridge, two men on the C&O Canal towpath, and three women in the woods climbing up from the tunnel.

Then with a few miles to go I see Carolyn Gernand who started an hour early. "Don't look back!" I admonish her as we climb a hill. She's wearing shorts that look to be the same model as some I have, a dizzy violet/blue/green pattern. I slip quietly past her and remain silent as long as I can. Finally I can't hold it in: "Carolyn, I tried hard not to say anything, but I've failed!" She laughs and replies, "I noticed!"

With a couple of miles to go I sense that I may be able to finish in under 7:15, about half an hour faster than last year. I dash along as fast as I can, ~12 min/mi, for most of the remaining distance and tag my self-defined Finish Line, Kerry's front door, with 7:13:27 showing on my GPS, 28.77 miles. Inside I eat lasagna, scalloped potatoes, Spanish pumpkin, rotini with a little vegetarian chili, and a bit of apple pie. Yum! Many thanks to all the organizers and volunteers.

Timing Information

location miles 2010 time split 2009 time split 2007 time split
Aid Station #1 - Battery-Kemble Park, DC ~4.41:011:011:061:061:011:01
Aid Station #2 - Teddy Roosevelt Island parking lot ~8.11:450:441:540:481:520:51
Aid Station #3 - Chain Bridge ~11.92:531:083:031:093:041:12
Aid Station #4 - Turkey Run Park ~15.73:551:024:091:064:191:15
American Legion Bridge (turnaround)~17.44:250:304:390:304:450:26
Aid Station #4 - Turkey Run (returning)~19.14:550:305:100:315:130:28
Aid Station #3 - Chain Bridge (returning)~23.05:571:026:141:046:321:19
Finish - Woodley Park, DC (Kerry Owens's home)~28.87:141:177:451:318:271:55

(cf. Potomac Heritage 50k 2007, 2009-11-01 - Potomac Heritage 50k 2009, Potomac Heritage Trail 50k 2010, ...) - ^z - 2010-11-16