2009-03-07 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k

31+ miles @ ~13 min/mi

"You look like you've lost weight," people tell me before and during today's race. The logical implication: in the past I've been fat! It reminds me of comments constantly made to Snake Plissken in the movies Escape from New York ("I thought you were dead.") and the sequel Escape from L.A. ("I thought you'd be taller."). Thanks, folks!

This year's SCGT run takes place on a too-hot-for-comfort day, with temperatures rising into the 70's. The morning begins frigid, however, at Rileys Lock when I arrive about 0530 and don windbreaker/gloves/cap to avoid hypothermia as I help set out orange traffic cones. Caren Jew, who's recuperating from illness and can't run, arrives to give a carload of folks a ride to the starting point in Damascus. As we travel Caroline Williams tells us of her plans to run a marathon in Pennsylvania tomorrow, training for her BRR 50 and MMT 100. Alyssa Soumoff is doing her first ultra today; we offer her our thoughts and advise cautious pacing. I give everyone the happy news that ultrarunner Rayna Matsuno's (Weise) new baby, Ananda, was born a few days ago.

Registration and bib pickup goes efficiently so with an hour to spare we sit in Caren's car and continue to chat. Ken Swab, Kate Abbott, Emaad Burki, and Wayne Carson appear and we commence teasing one another as usual. I catch sight of Cathy Blessing and snag a leftover 2008 JFK/MCRRC shirt for Kate. Ken demonstrates the "Buff" that he's wearing around his neck. It's a cleverly constructed tube of fabric that can be converted into balaclava, pirate's headscarf, sweatband, do-rag, scrunchie/barrette, and an apparently unlimited number of other useful configurations. I speculate that lady runners could wear it as a bandeau-style sports bra. Ken does not model it as such.

RD Ed gives a quick pre-race brief and we start promptly at 8am. The first few miles flow by quickly and I'm feeling uncannily good. Kate's GPS says we're doing 12 min/mi, too fast to sustain. A group of Francophone runners wearing red shirts that say "Les Fous de Bois" (does that mean "The Fools of the Woods"?) and black mesh faux-tutus all pass Kate and me. Ken, Wayne, and Emaad vanish into the distance ahead of us.

At the first major stream crossing, Magruder Branch, I apply the run-through-water technique that Caren taught me. Kate follows suit, with the disclaimer that if her feet bother her because of the moisture then she will make me suffer in the miles to come. No worries, though: we're both fine and our soggy socks soon dry. We pass Barry Smith and Emaad who are tiptoeing across on logs and stepping stones while clinging to the rope.

Kate has pockets on the back of her shorts from which strawberry energy gel has dripped down and splattered her legs slightly. "My gels are chocolate brown," I say. "Sure hope they don't leak!" Runners near us are amused. At the next road crossing Caren appears and takes photos of us. Kate and Emaad and I run mostly together until Watkins Mill Rd. Then I start to feel really strong and attack the hills aggressively. When I pass people I feel obligated to press onward, so as not to block them, and begin to open a gap on Kate and Emaad who are pacing themselves more conservatively through the pine woods. Still no sign of Ken and Wayne.

Now I'm starting to overheat. I pass a young lady wearing long sleeves and long black tights, likewise obviously suffering. We chat about the too-warm day and I commiserate with her plight, since except for slightly rolling up the cuffs she has no way to remove layers. I give up, take off my shirt, and stuff it under my belt. Before we began Wayne offered me what he said was "sunscreen" and I slathered some onto my arms and bald head. When I start to overheat and take off my shirt, however, photos show that I'm covered with a thick growth of hair—was this a controlled substance? Did Wayne get it from BALCO? Fortunately there's no drug testing today.

Approaching MD 355 I catch up with the tutu crew. "Pardonnez moi, s'il vous plait," I say, mustering the only fragments of the language I can recall. They commence talking to me in French, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't understand a word they're saying. I rush through the aid station behind them and keep glancing back in hopes of seeing Emaad and Kate. No joy.

A few miles later, climbing up from the high-tension power-line right-of-way I meet Mark McKennett, who is growing out his hair this month so he can cut it to spell "BRR" or some other race name. (I wish I had that option; maybe I can do it on my chest or back?) He's suffering knee pain and accepts a couple of my ibuprofens, then runs on ahead.

At Clopper Lake shortly after 11am I find myself still on schedule. Christina Caravoulias is here taking photos and offering encouragement. I commence the lake loop. Soon I encounter a young gentleman who ran here with Wayne and me during the 2008 SCGT. We talk, walk, and run. He remembers the place where I slipped and fell last year. I'm struck by the different tenor of conversation among males on the trails, as opposed to females. (cf. Rapport vs. Report)

From across a small bay on the south side of the lake an accusatory voice echoes out: "Sandbagger!" It's Wayne and Ken taunting me. Now they're only a quarter mile or so ahead. Is something wrong? I hope not—but also begin to fantasize that I can eventually catch up with the pair of speed demons. "Sandbaggers!" I shout back at them.

Then my cellphone rings and I take a walk break to answer it. Bad news: it's Kate, who reports that she's a couple of miles downstream from Clopper Lake. At the aid station she didn't realize—and there were no signs, and the volunteers didn't tell her—that she needed to turn left in order to add the lake loop and make it a 50k rather than a "marathon". Now she's with Anstr Davidson and although she thinks about backtracking to meet me it's clear that she's too far gone to make the cutoffs. So instead of ~32 miles she will have to settle for ~29. But she's running strong. I assure her that this is still perfect training for our joint assault on the Bull Run Run next month. (Kate also is signed up for the Nation Marathon in a few weeks, yet another reason to run conservatively today.)

At the end of the loop I pause to refill my bottles. K&W have just left, and on subsequent hills I gradually gain on them and finally join them. They are indeed jointly not happy, due to joint pain, but that doesn't stop the traditional banter among us. Before the race Ken showed me his experiment du jour: ibuprofen caplets stored between two layers of adhesive tape. Now he ruefully confesses that although the tape successfully protected the medicine from moisture, when he pulled it apart the tablets were partially reduced to powder. "And did you snort them?" I ask. "I bet that would get into your bloodstream quicker!" Wayne dares me to try the nasal route with my Vitamin I, but I respectfully decline. "The red pills would get stuck in my nose, and the doctors would laugh at me," is my excuse.

I give some ibuprofen to my companions as we trot. Approaching Riffle Ford Rd we come to the mile-long side trail (Long Slough?) that Ed has added to the course this year in overcompensation for upstream rerouting. Wayne drops back as Ken and I plow onward and we lose sight of him. Ken tells me how CM Manlandro and other friends are doing as we pick our way through the woods and over/around deadfalls that block the path. When we emerge at Riffle Ford he pauses to empty sand, gravel, leaves, etc. from his shoes. I jog on.

Now I'm starting to feel fatigue, so I walk more often but try to maintain speed on the hill climbs. I'm starting to get dehydrated and have run out of water; none is present at the Germantown Rd crossing, nor officially at Black Rock Mill. My stride suffers: I stumble and partially roll my right ankle twice, then trip about half a mile upstream of Black Rock Rd. I fall forward and land on damp dirt, catching myself on hands and waterbottle, no harm done. A safety pin holding my race number on my leg comes open and I get a little mud on my legs plus some leaves in my beard.

At Black Rock Mill—lucky me!—cheerful comrade Christina materializes and offers me a lifesaving bottle of Gatorade. I take only a third of it, and later learn that Chris has similarly been able to help Ken and Wayne behind me. Chris's friend Jaime is giving out jellybeans. I grab a fistful, then power out toward the official aid station at Rt 28 that's a bit over a mile away.

A couple of women and I encourage one another with the fantasy of beer ahead. CM Manlandro greets us and takes photographs as we enter the aid station, and helpfully refills my bottle for me. (Alas, there's no beer.) I apologize for not staying longer but dash onward. Once out of sight I recommence walking interrupted by brief intervals of slow jogging. My average pace now is 13-14 min/mi according to the markers. I phone Kate and confirm that she has made it over the big hill and is safely approaching the final road mile to the finish. She comes in under 6:20, half an hour ahead of me. Her GPS, she reports, confirms that the course is a kilometer or more longer than it was last year.

I'm passing a few more folks now, and after two dozen miles of complaining my left metatarsals give up and start to feel fine. Perhaps it's due to my efforts to modify my stride and reduce the outward-pointing waddle that my toes habitually perform? At Berryville Rd I meet Emaad, who is taking his time and enjoying the aid station fare. I gulp cola and press onward. A splashy dash through the stream crossing moistens my socks before the mega-hill climb. Midway in that steep section I pass the O'Donnells, father and son, who remember me from the same location last year. One of them comments on my apparent weight loss.

To spare the sensibilities of the finish line crew I put my shirt back on before I reach Seneca Rd. The final stretch down Tschiffley Lock Rd feels good; I trot in at sub-10 min/mi pace, passing the French gang and catching up with Luc Hale. He runs with me to the end but then sits down abruptly and calls for a medic; perhaps he's dehydrated from the warmth today? I've taken half a dozen S! caps, four energy gels, and probably half a gallon of Gatorade.

Back at the Rileys Lock pavilion I see omnipresent photographer Christina again. We chat and I visit with Caroline, Alyssa, Cathy, Ed, et al. Mical Honigfort is there with her ultra-cute baby Erik. A shy little girl is brought to me by her parents: she has identified me as Santa Claus and wants to visit. I explain that I'm trying to get into shape for next Xmas. She asks for a dollhouse, and I counsel her to be good.

Split information from my watch indicates that I arrive at MD 355 in 2:19, four minutes behind last year. I'm at Clopper Lake in 3:03, identical to 2008 modulo course changes. The lake loop takes 43 minutes, just as last year, but after that I do much better, averaging 13-14 min/mi instead of 15+ pace. My total time is officially 6:50:12, but my watch says I'm a few seconds faster. So in spite of the longer course I finish half a dozen minutes ahead of 2008 at an average pace of ~13 min/mi. Credit and thanks to CM, Caren, Mary, Kate, and other training partners—and to the ~10 lbs. that I've lost.

(cf. Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2005 (2005-03-05), SenecaCreekGreenwayTrailMarathon2006 (2006-03-05), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2007, (2007-03-04), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k 2008 (2008-03-02), ...) - ^z - 2009-03-14