2009-09-19 - Gunpowder Falls

~10 miles @ ~14 min/mi

"Quiet down back there!" Mary Ewell admonishes Caren Jew and Gayatri Datta, who are chatting noisily in the back seat of Mary's car. We're carpooling to Gunpowder Falls State Park, to run a lap of the Gunpowder Keg 50k. I'm riding shotgun but fail in my duties as navigator: on I-95, always a nervous drive, we almost miss our exit near Baltimore. Mary is wired with coffee this morning. Chastened Gayatri and Caren start to whisper together, like children after a parental outburst. I have to laugh.

As in 2007 and 2008, the pattern continues: I cover a smaller fraction of the course at a slower pace than ever before. But I'm again impressed with the loveliness of the terrain and the friendliness of the Race Director and everybody else I meet. This year is Caren's and Gayatri's first time on the trail.

We arrive, creeping slowly down the potholed road, at 7:45am—just in time to sign in, make donations to the park, drop off our jugs of water for the communal aid station, and get ready to run. At 8:05 RD Chris Cucuzzella finishes his briefing and we're off. Gaytri and I run at the back of the pack, with Mary a little in front of us and Caren cruising fast, soon out of sight. Nancy, a new runner training for the Baltimore Marathon but with no trail experience, accompanies us for the first couple of miles. Gayatri and I encourage her, offer her some suggestions on training and trail running, but have to run ahead near mile 2 as Nancy slows on the hills. (Hope she finished happy and uneventfully!) Other runners who start later are passing us, as are high school cross-country teams out for training.

About half a mile into the run, near where I fell last year, a small yellow-jacket lands on my right arm and stings me—ouch! This makes three stings in the past month (cf. 2009-08-22 - Two Bees, or Not Two Bees and 2009-08-28 - Buzzy Loops), not a pleasant trend. With the previous attacks on my right leg and left arm, that only leaves the left leg as a target for next week.

At about an hour into our journey Gayatri and I arrive at the midcourse aid station. I grab chips and cookies and we proceed onward, branching from the river trail and climbing to the ridge under the power lines. The steep hills start to wear on Gayatri, who has been doing most of her training for the Richmond Marathon on paved and relatively level paths. We chat, enjoy the scenery, and keep looking ahead for a glimpse of Caren or Mary. No joy.

Gayatri and I emerge onto the country road and run down it to the river. As we round a corner we think we see Mary, or someone who looks like her, reentering the river trail. By the time we arrive there, she's out of sight. Countless fallen trees on the trail require pauses to clamber over or, infrequently, under. Poison ivy and other brush encroaches. With Gayatri's permission I run a bit ahead. Finally, when we're almost back to the aid station, we catch up with Mary. We pause, eat, refill water bottles, and cross the wooden bridge to the north side of Gunpowder Falls. It's 98 minutes into the race, more than 10 minutes slower than in prior years. Still no sign of Caren.

As RD Cucuzzella forecast, we're running through a sea of grass for much of the next segment of the course. Mary cut her left little finger in a kitchen accident a few days ago and is moving carefully to avoid stumbling and tearing out the stitches. She and Gayatri promise to stick together and send me ahead to seek Caren. I sprint eastward for a couple of miles, pass several fishermen and hikers, almost fall at a few points, and wet my feet in a hasty crossing of a tributary creek. Finally, after a rushing ascent to York Rd where the course crosses back to the south side of the river, I spy my friend. "Caren!" I shout, and gesticulate madly. We're thrilled to find each other.

We run together for the final two miles back to the car, finishing the ~10 mile loop in 2:25. (Caren logs it as ~9 since she missed a turn and did an out-and-back instead of the official loop between miles 3 and 6.) We rehydrate, nibble, cheer the leaders as they come through 10 miles ahead of us, chat with the race photographer, and applaud Mary and Gayatri when they appear. Our trip home includes a pause at a Denny's fast food restaurant.

^z - 2009-09-23