2013-03-02 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k

^z 8th February 2023 at 9:13pm

~33.7 miles @ ~16 min/mi

At 4pm with only ~3 miles to go the sun comes peeking out between the clouds at last. It shines on Stephanie Fonda's ears, which have turned so red from the cold that they almost match the color of her streaked hair. I remember the equivalent point in the 2006 SCGT marathon when sunlight sparkled off of Caren Jew's diamond ear stud as we ran toward the finish line.

Stephanie and I pass a young lady who doesn't have a bib but who is finishing the race nonetheless. Stephanie comments on how strikingly beautiful the woman is. I concur, but with the explicit disclaimer that, although I hate to sound like a Sensitive New Age Guy, I haven't had a chance to speak with her enough to know if she's really lovely.

We climb the final hill and cross the finish line timing mats together to share an official tie of DFL, Dead F*ing Last, in 8:58:09. By some vagary my chip time shows up as 8:57:48, one second behind Stephanie. (Later another person is listed as finishing after us, but not quite within the 9 hour cutoff.) My Garmin GPS credits us with more than 33.7 miles when I remember to stop it a couple of minutes after the endpoint. The iPhone I carry runs out of power a few miles earlier; its Runkeeper app gets confused and adds a few dozen miles from my home to the trackfile.

After some nervous moments, today's race turns out OK. What a wonderful day!

"Golden hours are coming to you" my fortune cookie says the night before the SCGT 50k. But it fails to forecast how many golden hours I will enjoy. At 5:25am Barry Smith drives me to Stephanie's home. We stop on the way to get 7-11 coffee. I pick a dark roast. Twelve hours later, Stephanie tastes what's left, after the cup has been sitting in her car all day while we run. "Great iced coffee!" she declares.

When Barry and I arrive at her home Stephanie gives Barry a pair of her running shoes to stow in his car. She's beginning the run today in minimalist Vivobarefoot trail slippers and wants the option to change back to conventional shoes. Far beyond the call of duty, friend Barry volunteers to meet us along the way as needed. He has a bad cough and doesn't plan to run today.

After an uneventful early-morning drive we huddle in Stephanie's car at the Damascus Regional Park, where the race will ultimately end. When the third yellow school bus arrives to shuttle runners to the start we climb onboard and sit on the floor at the very rear. The ride to Riley's Lock on the Potomac is uneventful, except for some coccyx-bruising bumpiness. Once there, waiting in the porta-john line is one of the best decisions I make all day. No further detail needed on that!

At the starting area Stephanie and I find Ken Swab, Don Libes, and Alyssa Soumoff. We turn in our registration forms and payments, pin on our bibs, and wait. After the "Go" signal Ken and Stephanie soon vanish into the distance ahead. Pete McLaughlin of the Delaware Trail Dawgs, whom I met during the 2012-11-17 - Stone Mill 75k, re-introduces himself as we jog along the country road. His shorter buddy Stumpy isn't here today.

Don Libes and Tom Young and I trot together for the first several miles, blathering and telling jokes. Tom is my friendly rival, or was until he began consistently crushing me, most recently last weekend at the RRCA 10 Miler where he came in two minutes ahead. Tom has five sons, ages 6 months to 10 years, and is currently a stay-at-home dad. Today he is only ("only"!) going to Clopper Lake, where he plans to symbolically tag up with a running friend, a nursing mom who will continue on to the end of the SCGT in Damascus, while Tom rides back to his car with her husband.

About mile two I pass Adeline Ntam, a sharp-looking young bodybuilder who is already suffering from horrible cramps and is worried that she will have to drop. I give her a couple of Succeed! electrolyte capsules and advise her to take them, walk twenty minutes, and then see how she feels. A few miles later Adeline catches up and passes me, infinitely better. Apparently we both suffer from similar electrolyte challenges. I give Adeline two more S! e-caps and tell her to drink lots of Gatorade and eat salty foods at all aid stations. She blitzes on to finish the 50k strong in ~7:15. I remember how kind Rayna Matsuno gave me a Succeed! when I was suffering similarly at mile 18 of the 2005 SCGT race, and how Mary Ewell was miraculously resurrected when I gave her an S! at mile 17 of the 2007 HAT Run.

Light snow flurries come and go throughout the morning. About mile 13 I catch up with Stephanie. Her minimalist shoes have done a good job, but now her feet are starting to feel the pounding of rocks and roots. It's time to contact Barry Smith and take him up on his kind offer to bring her a change of footgear. Tom Young goes on ahead, and though Stephanie has already texted Barry I phone to make sure. He's on his way and will meet us at the aid station a few miles upstream.

A bit after 11:30am, mile ~15.7 by my GPS, we arrive at Clopper Lake. Barry is there a few minutes earlier and takes photos while Stephanie changes shoes. Volunteer race staffer Yvette Ju is ultra-cheerful and encouraging as she refills my hydration backpack's water bladder. Although I aver it's unwise to add three bonus miles by doing the lake loop trail, Stephanie decides to undertake the "50k" instead of the "marathon".

Don Libes precedes us by a few minutes. We pass only a few other runners as we circle the lake but encounter flocks of dog-walkers, tourists speaking Cantonese, and family groups hiking along. A huge Great Blue Heron takes flight from close by on the northern shore. We spy runners ahead of us on the opposite side of the water. Dropped yellow chiclet candies mark the path. I pick up bits of litter along the way.

Back at the aid station we hastily refuel. Stephanie and Don head out while I pause to chat with sweepers Michele Harmon, Kerry Owens, and Doug Sullivan. They say not to worry too much about cutoffs. They plan to take their time, ensure that all runners are safe, and get to the finish a bit after 5pm.

Now Stephanie's left foot starts to hurt rather badly — we're not sure if it's plantar fasciitis or some other tendinitis, but we all hope it's not a stress fracture. Stephanie runs in front while Don and I chat about the special challenges that ultrarunners face. Besides joint and tendon issues, I emphasize chafing, fueling, and electrolyte balance. After we leave Seneca Creek State Park we catch up with a lady who is not feeling at all well. I talk with her, give her some ibuprofen, and encourage her to check in at the next aid station just a couple of miles ahead.

Onward under I-270 and MD-355 we go, where the trail climbs to follow a sidewalk to the next aid station. On the way Don points out a house where he lived long ago, near a big curve on Game Preserve Rd where cars frequently skidded off the pavement. I find a corroded quarter. The woman I gave ibuprofen to a few miles back arrives at the aid station, sits on a cot, and decides to drop. Stephanie's left foot is in bad shape so she too sits, takes off the shoe, wiggles her toes, and rests for a few minutes while she drinks Coke and nibbles goldfish crackers.

We ponder accepting a ride back to Damascus from the helpful volunteers. Seneca Creek Trail maven Ed Schultze is there. I tell him about the time in January 2006 when he scared Caren Jew and me by driving his pick-up truck along a segment of trail before dawn as we were doing a training run. Caren thought the glare of the headlights was an axe-murderer coming to kill us. Ed points out a trail worker at the aid station today who was actually carrying an axe when somebody saw him, got scared, and called the police.

Stephanie decides to continue on. I promise that if her foot gets much worse we can hitch a ride at the next road crossing. During the 2011 Stone Mill 50 miler dear friend Caren, who lives nearby, rescued me. I assure Stephanie that we can enlist Caren's help today. After another mile Stephanie is almost ready to call my bluff. "OK," I say, "but you have to ask me two times, with 30 seconds between each request. Then I'll call." Stephanie asks once. I start to get my phone out. But before a half minute has elapsed she decides to keep going and cancels the appeal.

At a stone outcropping scenic-overlook high above Seneca Creek I insist on diverting to peer down. While stepping back from the rocks I stumble and give Stephanie a burst of adrenaline — it looks momentarily as though I might fall. At Watkins Mill and Brink and Huntmaster roads we again evaluate her foot pain. But soon there are less than 10 miles to go. "Single digits!" Stephanie declares, and there's no stopping her now. Intermittent snow flurries reappear. The sun blesses us with its rays. I find a clean-looking Oreo cookie on the ground and eat it. Yum! We cross Magruder Branch, rejecting the semi-submerged slippery stepping-stones in favor of safely wading through ankle-deep water.

As we hike along to the finish Stephanie tells how her experience along Seneca Creek during the Stone Mill 50 miler last year has helped her work better with some of the patients she counsels on health issues. "It doesn't always get worse," is an untrarunner proverb that applies in other tough contexts. We talk about family and friends and challenges and life. The final miles are the best part of today's race.

^z - 2013-03-18