Icy Half Marathon

After yesterday's Arctic chills this morning feels almost warm, with temperatures in the low 20's. Christina Caravoulias and I meet just after 7am in the downtown Bethesda parking lot. I leave my car and ride with her to the Rockville Metro, chugging electrolyte drink to avoid dehydration. I anticipate frozen water fountains; fortunately I'm wrong. The main fountains every few miles are indeed frozen solid, but the taps on the side that supply "dog water" work fine, so I refill my bottle and Chris takes off a glove to catch water in her cupped hand --- brrrrr!

Further notes on that (2008-01-21) and other recent runs follow ...

2008-01-12 - Riverbend Park Hillwork and Paint Branch Tempo Run

~5 miles @ ~14 min/mi & ~6 miles @ ~10 min/mi/

A red fox dashes away as Mary Ewell and Kevin Lee and I trot along what might be part of the Potomac Heritage Trail upstream of Riverbend Regional Park. Our path follows the Virginia shore of the Potomac just above Great Falls, gentle terrain except where it climbs over steep ridges, smooth except where tree roots hide under the blanket of fallen leaves. Half a mile into the run we reach the hill which Mary and I ran up on 2007-09-29 near the end of a long jog (see MatherGorge). That time I issued the challenge; today Mary throws down the gauntlet. She does half a dozen repeats; Kevin is similarly strong, but I only survive half as many. More hill work needed!

After recovering we continue upstream for a few more miles until the trail leads mysteriously away from the river to a decrepit wildlife sanctuary hut. Nearby is an ancient-looking stone springhouse. We circle the building (almost falling into a pit concealed by leaves) and return. Merle is awaiting us; he has been exploring and photographing the Riverbend Park shoreline and nearby forests.

Saturday afternoon I take Gray to the University of Maryland and discover the gates to Kehoe Track chained and locked against me. No speedwork there! So I jog across campus to Paint Branch Trail and trot briskly from milepost 1.5 to 3.5 and back. The weather is cool and I encounter enough spectators to keep me moving briskly, with mile splits of 9:34 + 9:29 + 9:08 + 8:46 (whooo!). The journey to/from the parking lot near the music building takes ~11 minutes each way.

2008-01-19 - Shooting Starr 5 Miler

5 miles @ ~8.4 min/mi

In contrast to previous years of single-digit or low-teens temps, it's a positively balmy near-freezing at this morning's 'Shooting Starr' MCRRC five miler. Jeanne Larrison is volunteering at the registration table and kindly gives me #333 again this year: the Half Beast is Back! Christina Caravoulias is there before me and signs up to run the George Washington's Birthday Marathon Relay that I've printed out the paperwork for; Betty Smith follows suit. Now we only need one more to fill out a Women Masters team! Last year there were three awards but only one team in that category, so it seems like a good bet to try. I'm hoping to run the GWBM marathon myself, perhaps with some of the relay participants. It will be my fifth year in a row for that race.

When the building opens I go in and find Ken Swab, back from work-related travels and about to fly out again. We chat about our families and I express my condolences over his father's recent death. Home construction work is an ongoing ordeal for us both. I try to massage some warmth into my frozen feet. (I ask Ken to help rub them, but even though his employer is into serving the customer he respectfully declines.) The race start is delayed for 15 minutes so we stay inside as long as possible, then emerge to stand near the back of the pack with Christina, Betty, Jeanne, and several other comrades. Chris tells me to go ahead and not run with her. She's in the speed development program and wants to do her own race today. We plan to take a longer run together on Monday, a holiday for us both. Beth Starr, widow of Jim Starr whom this race honors, talks briefly and then we're off.

I commence briskly, hoping to be able to maintain sub-9 minutes/mile as per my recent training jogs. The course, slightly modified from past years, runs through an aptly named Hillandale neighborhood and features multiple long inclines. Ken drops back but catches me near the 1 km area. He reminds me to extend my stride and accelerate downhill. I follow that advice as well as Christina's guidance to attack uphill segments with strong arm motion. It seems to help. After about 3.5 miles my legs start to feel weak, but I keep pushing when I see that I'm on pace for a sub-45-minute time. My splits: 8:23 + 8:05 + 8:21 + 8:41 + 8:19 with an official finish time of 41:51. I'm in 131st place overall, a startling 8 of 16 in my new 55-59 male age group. Whee! It looks like a PR, compared to past results at this race on similar courses: 2007 = 56:31, 2006 = 46:40, 2005 = 53:31, 2004 = 53:21 ...

2008-01-20 - Massanutten Mountain South Training Run

11+ miles @ ~22+ min/mi

On New Year's Day during the Red Eye 50k I trip on a rock and collapse forward, landing flat with a thump! This Sunday, descending the steep Massanutten Mountain Waterfall Trail I slip on the leaves and with another loud thump! find myself suddenly flat on my back. My pair of stumbles, fore and aft, brings to mind the Nurse's bawdy lines in Act I Scene iii of Romeo and Juliet describing events from Juliet's infancy. As a toddler Juliet takes a tumble and gets a goose egg on her forehead. The Nurse's husband comforts the baby: "... dost thou fall upon thy face? Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit ..."

Caren Jew on Massanutten Mountain

Mark Zimmermann on Massanutten Mountain

The red line shows our counter-clockwise route: Caren Jew and I begin the expedition at the blue "X" at the top of the map and climb ~500 feet to the ridge on the west that forms Kerns Mountain. Then we go south along the Massanutten Trail and descend back to Crisman Hollow Rd at the blue "+" where Quatro Hubbard's aid station helps us refuel. (Quatro tells me that he has looked at my DC Boundary Stone web pages, as part of his work as Archivist for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. One meets fans in the strangest places!) We descend steeply another ~500 feet on the old Waterfall Mountain segment of the Massanutten Trail, turn north, then climb back to our starting point via Scothorn Gap Trail and Gap Creek Trail.

How did we get here, trekking across snow and rocks with temperatures in the teens? As usual, Caren swindles me into it! I get up at 3am and meet her a bit after 5 at the Davis Library. She drives the two-plus hours to the southern end of Massanutten Mountain where today's G2G = "Gap to Gap" VHTRC training run is scheduled to begin. Along the way we listen to a CD I've made of running songs and bob our heads to the beat of ZZ Top, David Bowie, Blues Traveler, and other classic rock. A yellow-tinged gibbous moon sets in the west; Venus rises over the mountains to our the east. At the McDonalds just off I-81 in New Market we pause to visit the facilities and discover more than half a dozen other trail runners similarly preparing for a frigid winter morning.

Caren's notes capture the spirit of the day:

  • Nerve-wracking drive past a spun-out Mustang blocking half of a slick, icy, mountain road. Doesn't help that there's five SUVs behind me that would have no trouble whatsoever. We find out later Michelle Price and gang can't make it past the Mustang and she and several other cars have to reverse and start elsewhere.
  • Temps in the teens and lots of wind.
  • Mile or two climb straight up, conversely a non-stop descent that had my quads screaming. (And Kerry Owens nimbly running down the same hill was no help.)
  • Nice runnable trail into the 6-mile aid station, and elsewhere on the trail. Surprisingly, the snow made the trail less technical, although it was more work to run through.
  • Tanked big-time going up yet another climb. Mark doesn't know how bad I want to quit and saves the day by sharing his gel and dislodging my frozen water bottle.
  • A safe drive out. Did I say how freaked out I was driving in?

I must observe that Caren herself:

  • suggested that we do this in the first place.
  • spurned the chance to jog back along Crisman Hollow Road and avoid almost half a dozen tough miles.
  • was the one who saw the signs marking the transitions from Massanutten Trail to the other trails in the loop, so we didn't wander aimlessly in the woods.

My diagnosis of the problems that we both experience today: dehydration brought on by exertion in the cold dry air. When I get home I weigh myself and find that I've lost more than half a pound compared to this morning --- and that's after our stop at a fast food restaurant on the way back where I inhale veggie burger, fries, and soda water. Actual dehydration was thus probably over 2 lbs. for me.

Overall the Massanutten experience is an excellent one: daunting hills and bitter cold add to the terrain's beauty. Crows scold us for intruding on their turf. Icicles grow on my moustache and beard as our water bottles freeze. And we survive!

(Huge thanks to Quatro Hubbard and Mike Burr of the VHTRC for organizing and supporting this fun run; special thanks to Caren Jew for inviting me to do it with her! Photos by Caren Jew. Map clipping courtesy Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, annotations by ^z. Cf. JFK 2007 Preparation (2007-10-26), Potomac Heritage 50k 2007 (2007-11-04), GrapevineRun (2007-11-12), Don Quixote 55k Run 2007 (2007-11-22), HuntingSeason (2007-11-30), Fallen Angel (2007-12-08), LightningCrashes (2007-12-23), Red Eye 50k 2008 (2008-01-05), ...)

(correlates: PhilosophicalBumpersticker, GiveMeTheBrain, Mr. Know-It-All, ...)

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2008-01-21 - Parks Half Marathon Course Ramble

13+ miles @ ~16 min/mi

Christina and I walk to the official Parks Half Marathon starting line near the Rockville Metro station, then jog most of the first two miles down Veirs Mill Rd. Ice on shaded slopes is a sporadic problem, especially once we join Rock Creek Trail for miles 3-10. We walk cautiously through dangerous patches and manage to avoid falling down. As the sun rises so does the temperature, towards the upper 20's.

Wildlife is absent except for a few crows and a frozen squirrel that Chris spots and that I thankfully miss. Leaves at the bottom of a puddle, trapped under a glass-clear layer of ice that reflects the sky, bring to mind the M. C. Escher print "Three Worlds". Dog-walkers bundled up in parkas and scarves look with amazement at our skimpy outfits. (Both Christina and I make a limited concession to the cold and wear tights, unusual for us.) Our walk breaks help us both feel relatively comfortable throughout the journey. In Bethesda Chris picks up a hot apple cider to drink and I drive us back up the Pike to drop her off at her car.

(cf. JFK 2007 Preparation (2007-10-26), Potomac Heritage 50k 2007 (2007-11-04), GrapevineRun (2007-11-12), Don Quixote 55k Run 2007 (2007-11-22), HuntingSeason (2007-11-30), Fallen Angel (2007-12-08), LightningCrashes (2007-12-23), Red Eye 50k 2008 (2008-01-05), Massanutten Mountain South Training Run (2008-01-22), ...) - ^z 2008-01-25

(correlates: 2007-09-01 - Half Marathon Practice, PerversityPrinciple, 2008-07-11 - MidSummer Night's Mile, ...)