2017-04-29 - C and O Canal 100 Miler

~100 miles @ ~17 min/mi


After seven attempts over seven years, the Sun laps me on 29-30 April 2017 and I complete the C&O Canal 100 Mile Race two hours ahead of the cutoffs — yay!

Oddly — or perhaps, not so oddly? — no big deal. From before the start until after the end: let go of expectations; stay open to possibilities; enjoy whatever the day brings; say Yes, and ...; be thankful. (Ditto through the night!)

It's all good.

Official results show total time 27:53:08, 41st of 66 finishers, with 52 DNFs among the 118 starters.

C&O Canal 100 - ^z just before the start

(pre-start - photo by Paul Encarnación)
Apt advice from the Osho Zen tarot card drawn the day before:

Knight of Water: Trust

Now is the moment to be a bungee jumper without the cord! And it is this quality of absolute trust, with no reservations or secret safety nets, that the Knight of Water demands from us. There is a tremendous sense of exhilaration if we can take the jump and move into the unknown, even if the idea scares us to death. And when we take trust to the level of the quantum leap, we don't make any elaborate plans or preparations. We don't say, "Okay, I trust that I know what to do now, and I'll settle my things and pack my suitcase and take it with me." No, we just jump, with hardly a thought for what happens next. The leap is the thing, and the thrill of it as we free-fall through the empty sky. ...

... and so today's race is a Zen leap off the 100 foot pole. No goals ...
Instead of last-minute packing the evening before — getting up at 2am, driving in pre-dawn darkness out to the race location, and starting tired — the non-plan this time is to take off from work the previous day, be at the start/finish area by late afternoon, nap there overnight, and just take it easy. Son Merle lends his car. Dear Dr Fonda, with help from her pup, Louis ze French Bulldog, applies Leukotape to feet to deter blisters and offers sage advice from her experience in 100 milers. Thank you, Stephanie!

Arrive at Camp Manadokan, register, and meet cheery Cheryl Clay and her daughter Emily (in charge of the volunteers). Cheryl and I make friends instantly. We're both in the midst of reading The Girl on the Train, we both are a bit nervous about camping out, we both concur on Big Life Issues, and we both are inveterate optimists. Cheryl and her husband live in Abingdon VA — next to the Virginia Creeper Trail, where Stephanie and I have signed up for a 100 mile race that starts on my 65th birthday in late September. Cheryl instantly makes a kind offer. Thank you, Ma'am!

Pre-ultramarathon diet is ultra-low-fiber: ramen for lunch, cheetos-and-cola-and-candy for dinner, iced coffee and crackers for breakfast. Sit in a camp chair and read as the sun sets. Wake at 2am during a thunderstorm. Get up at 5:30am to enjoy a clean indoor restroom with lights and running water at the camp dining hall. Feel happy.
C&O Canal 100 - ^z

(mile 26 - photo by Paul Encarnación)
C&O Canal 100 - Adeline Ntam and ^z

(mile 93 - photo by Paul Encarnación)
Prepare for near-record hot weather, temperatures rising into mid-to-upper 80's, humidity high. Trot for the first ~25 miles (~7am to ~12:30pm) at an average ~13 min/mi, with a 3:2 run:walk ratio, watch chirping every 5 minutes. Smile for passing showers.

When it really starts to get warm, shift for the next ~25 miles to a 1:4 ratio run:walk for a few hours, then to virtually all walking with only brief jogs to get through sunny patches. Average pace is now ~15 min/mi. Arrive at the midpoint of the race ~6:45pm, a nice sub-12 hour 50 miler.

On the initial segment of the run, heading toward Antietam, catch up with a group of young ladies. "My GPS says 5 miles," one says.

"What percentage have we done now?" I ask her.

"I don't know — 20%?"

We laugh together.
During the race, eat almost no solid food: a few small boiled potatoes dipped in salt, a couple of cookies, a fragment of fruit, a handful of M&M candies. Instead, at every aid station refill bottles with sugary Gatorade or Tailwind electrolyte liquids. Take ~30 Succeed! e-caps to replace sodium and potassium sweated out. Suck down a couple dozen energy gels.

In mid-afternoon, meet a strange cyclist (Asperger syndrome, perhaps?) who rides slowly alongside and lectures about his plans to grow trees on Mars, to set up orbiting fleets of drones to pick up space debris, etc. He has no fixed address, he says, and is on his way to Washington DC to find a shelter to live in. He hopes to meet with Congressmen to lobby against penalties for non-child-support, then celebrate Ramadan next month. After half an hour, tell him politely that I need time alone to think and recenter. He thanks me and cheerfully pedals ahead.

Throughout the race meet friendly fellow runners, walk and visit with them, then send them onward. Applaud über-helpful volunteers. On the canal towpath greet former colleague Alby (Bill) doing the One Day Hike to Harpers Ferry. Say "Hi!" to comrade Bernadette on her bike, riding behind her son. Spy a northern water snake lying on the trail, and countless turtles sunning themselves on logs by the water.
C&O Canal 100 - ^z with ice pops

(mile 93 aid station - photo by Paul Encarnación)
C&O Canal 100 - ^z at mile 99 stre

(mile 99 - photo by Adeline Ntam)
At ~2am, try to take a power nap — sit eyes-closed in a camp chair at an aid station and listen to cowbells ring for runners coming in. Get up after 5 minutes of non-sleepiness and carry on.

Enjoy fascinating perceptual hallucinations from 3-7am: pattern-matching routines in the brain go on overdrive and conjure up artificial structures from random leaf and branch arrangements. See imaginary walls, bookcases, signs, power lines, tunnels, bridges, houses, statues of horses, etc. in the brush alongside the towpath. Know that they're fictional.

Early Sunday morning listen to freight trains clash as they couple and uncouple cars. Change socks at miles 30, 40, 50, and 60. Swap into dry shoes at 9:45pm after getting a wet foot during a stream crossing.
Walk the final 50 miles in ~16 hours, averaging about 19 minutes/mile, staying ~2 hours ahead of all cutoffs. Trade sweat-soaked shirts, and discover that singlets expose shoulders to chafing from pack straps. John Hord greases my back. Thank you, Sir!

"I practice Active Recovery," ultra-buddy Adeline Ntam tells me as we walk together for the final 7 miles. She describes how exercise after an ultramarathon can help.

"OK," I say. "Let's start our Active Recovery now!" We begin to trot together, and laugh. Adeline is signed up for the tough Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler next weekend. She takes photos of me as I climb the final hill and reach the finish line. Thank you, Addie!

Thoughts for the future? Mainly, don't be stingy with tape: apply it between toes and farther up the sides of feet and heels, with greater overlap. Blisters are no fun. This time, experience only a few small ones.

And keep letting go of goals!
C&O Canal 100 - ^z at mile 99 on

(mile 99 - photo by Adeline Ntam)

History of ^z 100 mile races:

Date Race Distance
2010-05-05MMT 100532017.4with Kate Abbott: blisters, tired, too slow for next cutoff
2012-04-07Philadelphia 100521916with Jackie Ong: tired, indigestion, other things to do
2013-04-27C&O Canal 100521719blisters
2013-10-12Tesla-Hertz 100621718crewed by Rayna Matsuno: tired, other things to do
2014-04-26C&O Canal 100691720blisters
2015-03-28Umstead 100751620.4crewed by Mary Ewell: blisters, indigestion, other things to do
2016-12-17Devil Dog 100421812.5ice storm, tired, too slow for next cutoff
2017-04-29C&O Canal 1001001727.9No worries!

Split data from the kind volunteers who check runners into each aid station:

Location Distance
Antietam 16.313.313.31:23:338:23 AM
North Turnaround 110.112.713.02:11:389:11 AM
Antietam 213.912.713.03:00:0210:00 AM
Dargan 118.812.812.94:02:5411:02 AM
Keep Tryst 125.713.313.05:34:2212:34 PM
Brunswick 128.814.713.26:20:031:20 PM
Lander Rd 133.014.413.47:20:422:20 PM
Nolands Ferry 139.415.613.79:00:374:00 PM
Lander Rd 245.816.314.110:45:015:45 PM
Brunswick 250.014.314.111:45:076:45 PM
Keep Tryst 253.117.814.312:40:137:40 PM
Manidokan 159.618.914.814:42:459:42 PM 12:00 AM
Keep Tryst 366.120.615.416:56:2011:56 PM
Brunswick 369.219.615.617:56:5812:56 AM
Lander Rd 373.418.515.719:14:302:14 AM
Nolands Ferry 279.819.416.021:18:544:18 AM 6:30 AM
Lander Rd 486.220.016.323:27:096:27 AM
Brunswick 490.418.316.424:43:537:43 AM 9:45 AM
Keep Tryst 493.519.816.525:45:218:45 AM
Manidokan 2100.019.716.727:53:0810:53 AM 1:00 PM

^z - 2017-05-28