2006-01-28 - Magruder Branch and Seneca Creek (North)

21+ miles @ ~15 min/mi

Ed Schultze has organized another training run along his beloved Seneca Creek Greenway Trail, and C-C, Ken, and I decide to try it. At 7:25am when Ken and I arrive at the MD355 trailhead the parking lot [1] is almost full. C-C climbs into the back of Paulette's MINI Cooper, as does ultrarunner Pete, who tells us about some of his adventures during the drive to Damascus Recreational Park [2] where the day's journey begins. We leave early, planning to go at our own slow pace and preparing to be passed by speedier runners. (But during our jog Ken offers the zen-like riddle: if you're never passed, then are you the fastest or the slowest?)

The air temperature is at freezing, so we layer on the clothes. We walk for a few minutes to warm up, then jog down the paved pathway to the beginning of the Magruder Branch Trail [3]. Blue blazes are so abundant that we never get significantly off-course. A few miles into the trip people running upstream meet us, and a bit later those heading downstream begin to catch up and zip by. A herd of whitetail deer leap through the brush on both sides and then cross the trail just in front of us. Their tails are amazingly fluffy, like featherdusters. Does this portend a hard winter ahead?

Our progress is steady; psychological pressure from my companions' presence keeps me moving a bit faster than I probably would have gone alone. We take walk-breaks on hills and as we get tired. Banter between Ken and me keeps C-C amused. After several uneventful water crossings earlier in the day, with only a mile to go at a small tributary stream C-C's foot slips off a stepping-stone and she get wet up to the ankle. "You're trail-baptized now!" I remark. As the MD355 parking lot comes into sight C-C sprints up the hill in a strong finish. My GPS measures the distance as 10.6+ miles, but since it's usually low by ~5% for winding routes I suspect that the actual path we took is ~11 miles, at an average pace of ~14:30 min/mi, including ~5 minutes we stopped to eat and drink along the way.

We eat, drink, and chat with fellow runners for several minutes. Then, as planned, I refill my water bottle and begin the return trip to Damascus where I left the car. That journey is marked by much more mud, since temperatures have now risen into the 50's and frozen bogs have melted wherever they're not well-shaded. I spy a few more large fluffy-tailed deer, including one big buck with a well-developed three-point rack. He turns his head to eye me until the trail takes me out of sight. After three hours hoof time I'm sweating enough to take an electrolyte capsule and remove my outer shirt. An hour later when I look for my tin of caps to take another I can't find them; I must have dropped the little box and not noticed. I eat a Cliff "Builder's Bar" and console myself by reading the wrapper, which implies that it contains enough sodium and potassium to meet my needs.

With five miles to go I'm walking a lot now, and who should I see striding briskly toward me but Comrade Way-No! His broken foot continues to heal nicely, he reports. He warns me that the Magruder Branch Trail takes some tricky turns and is easy to lose heading upstream. Appropriately cautioned, I turn on the GPS map display for the track I recorded during the downstream trip and thereafter have no problems following it back to the parking lot. A few young runners are waiting there and I beg a drink of water from them, since my supply ran out half an hour earlier. The GPS measures the round trip as 21.23 miles, again likely a few percent low. I took about 10 minutes longer to get back solo, for a net overall pace of ~15 min/mi. The odyssey ends with no blisters and no chafing, but the soles of my feet feel a bit bruised. My bright new trail shoes emerge with a legitimate layer of dried mud.