"Unleash your inner goat!" comrade Bernie advises me as we tread carefully among the sharp stones of the Appalachian Trail atop South Mountain. The past fortnight includes a few such long runs, as I prepare myself for the JFK 50 miler on 18 November. I've also taken some recovery walks with friend Christina, have changed the batteries in my LED flashlight, and have gathered materials for a "drop bag" to enable resupply along the C&O Canal towpath during the event itself. Memoirs of recent major journeys:

2006-10-28 - Mad Dog Zimmarathon Plus

~29 miles @ ~13 min/mi

Today's Mad Dog Zimmarathon Plus follows the classic MDZ course — home to Lake Needwood and back, via Rock Creek Trail — but adds a loop around the lake for a bit of off-road fun. (See HoofTime for a report on the original, and thus far only, running of the Mad Dog Zimmarathon, 29 Aug 2004.) As the sole competitor my finish, a hair under 6:16, is a new record. Along the way I meet (or am passed by) a flock of friendly people, including a fellow JFK 50 miler trainee who recognizes me from our Appalachian Trail run of 10 Sep. The day dawns warm and humid, ~60°F at 8:30am, but gradually becomes drier, windier, and cooler-feeling although temperatures hold almost constant. "I am a leaf on the wind," I tell myself, as breezes yank red-orange-yellow autumn foliage from the trees to pirouette down upon me.

Overnight rains have left huge puddles on the path, but I manage to avoid them for the first two hours. Then approaching Viers Mill Road (mile ~9.5) as I divert to avoid a sea covering the asphalt, a deep swamp hidden under the grass renders both feet instantly soggy. A mile later it's panic time due to equipment malfunction: the Saucony shoe inserts beneath my feet start to curl up and slip out of place. Visions of horrid blisters form instantly in my brain. (Visions in the brain of blisters on the feet, that is!) I sit down on a stump and take the shoes off, pull out the inserts, shake away as much water as I can, and replace them. The right one is ok now but the left again wrinkles, so a mile later I stop to adjust it once more. This time it settles into place. Whew!

My pace between mileposts on the RCT averages 12:52 (± 35 seconds) on the outbound leg and 12:49 (± 44 seconds) during the return trip. The Lake Needwood loop takes ~40 minutes, so I guestimate it as a bit under 3 miles. En route I consume a bag of Ritz mini-cheese-cracker sandwiches, three root beer barrel candies, four energy gels, half a Clif Builder's bar, and four bottles of ZelectrolyteFormula. (I carry with me a little flask of 10x concentrate that I squirt into my water bottle when I refill it at the fountains.) I suffer only minor blistering on the inside edge of the right foot, the same area that troubled me during the Wineglass Marathon 2006 earlier this month. Bottom line: a pace of ~13 minutes/mile may with luck be feasible for the flatter parts of the JFK, but I should probably not try anything faster.

2006-11-04 - JFK Prep

~13 miles @ ~20 min/mi

As Bernie (aka Lisa) and I trek along the Appalachian Trail an older gentleman passes us. His name is Paul Betker and he tells us that this year will be his 25th consecutive running of the JFK 50 Miler. We are impressed; we're preparing for our first JFK attempt. Judging by the icicles on my beard the temperatures are in the mid-20's (°F) this morning. The sun is mostly up and the leaves are mostly down when we set off from the Old South Mountain Inn , a 250-year-old establishment at Turner's Gap in the hills of western Maryland. Earlier this morning I pick up Gina (aka Mrs. T-Bone) and give her a lift to Weverton Cliffs where we leave my car, meet Carol, and ride with her and Bernie to Boonsboro. We do a quick drive-by reconnaissance of the first ~2.5 miles of the JFK course, then park and commence jogging.

The trail is pleasant though steep in places. Autumn leaves conceal many treacherous rocks and crevices. Gina and Carol trot ahead; Bernie and I chat as we progress carefully and relentlessly southward along the ridge called South Mountain. We know each other from our first JFK prep run on 10 Sep. Today, as the slowest members of the group, we keep each other company. After an hour or so we reach terra cognita, the Appalachian Trail's junction with Bear Spring Cabin Trail . Then it's onward and downward to Gathland State Park , mile 9.3 of the JFK. We arrive after 2h09m and spend eleven minutes eating, stretching, and enjoying the facilities. Then we continue, arriving 2h07m later at Weverton, the 15.5 mile point of the race. During the actual 50 miler we had better go a bit faster to make the time cutoffs comfortably. We rejoin Gina, eat, drink, pile into my car, take Bernie back to hers, then head for home.

2006-11-06 - Gude-Southlawn-RCT Trek

~15 miles @ ~11:10 min/mi

At about 2pm Paulette and I are finished with Tile Viewing (yes, there's a major construction project underway at Chez ^z) at a shop near the intersection of Gude Drive and Rockville Pike. So I set out jogging, hoping eventually to find my way home. Gude takes me to Southlawn, where I run a gauntlet of depressing dumps, junkyards, and the like to where the road narrows and the sidewalks (and shoulders) vanish. I tread carefully around the curves and finally see the familiar RCT crossing at mile 13.5, roughly half an hour into the journey. The rest is as usual: trot downstream, maintain a 2:1 ratio of jog:walk, refill my bottle at the fountains, and watch out for bicycles. A small deer feeds on the opposite side of the stream; my passage frightens dozens of squirrels. At Ken-Gar I suck down an energy gel and a mile thereafter greet a young friend of the family who is studying her college textbook on an isolated park bench, her bicycle leaning against a nearby tree. My final measured miles are a brisk (for me) ~10:30. I experience the usual intermittent twinges in feet, shins, and knees. This is probably the last semi-major jog before the JFK on 18 November.

2006-11-11 - Seneca Nightfall

~7 miles @ ~13 min/mi

At 4pm Caren Jew (C-C) and I meet at the parking lot where Seneca Creek crosses highway 355 and trot downslope to join the Greenway Trail headed southwards (downstream). I'm trying out my new "Welcome to the Dark Side" team-MCRRC shirt designed for the JFK 50 miler next week, and Caren is wearing her similarly-colored "Run for Beer" tee. We set a brisk pace with minor walk breaks on hills and rocky spots as we talk about the upcoming ultramarathon. I stop to photograph a century-old stone railroad bridge. After ~45 minutes we're well inside Seneca Creek State Park and pause to look at the setting sun before turning back. Then Caren spies a side path, so we climb it to find ourselves at a picnic area (officially named "Chickadee" according to the online park map). We run a symbolic lap around the little paved turnaround loop, then return to the Greenway.

Half an hour later it begins to get seriously dark and slightly spooky. I've got my trusty LED flashlight, still shining nicely though the original batteries from a year ago are starting to run down. Teal-green blazes painted on the trees are faded and far apart, so I drift off-course frequently but Caren is sharper-eyed and always gets us back to the path with minimal delay. We debate whether to attempt the pre-dawn Appalachian Trail segment of the JFK with headlamps versus hand-held lights, and decide that maybe carrying both would be better. Our main concern now is to avoid falling in the mud, twisting an ankle, or otherwise doing damage to ourselves in the dark — we're saving that for the race itself! A sprinter blasts past us on the 355 bridge over the stream as we step aside in amazement. At about 5:45pm we're back to our cars.

(cf. SpongeBath (29 Jun 2006), RemindMeNeverTo (23 July 2006), IntestinalInfortitude (13 Aug 2006), BabyGetsNewShoes (5 Sep 2006), VikingRailroad (26 Sep 2006), HatBulge (23 Oct 2006), ...)

TopicRunning - TopicPersonalHistory - 2006-11-12

(correlates: 2007-09-02 - AT Out-and-Back, 2004-11-06 - Fallen Leaf Forest Floor, Comments on TboltMonkeysOnMyBack, ...)