FYI, we made it through Hurricane Sandy unscathed. I’m still somewhat stiff after Saturday’s race, but doing fine. No knee issues either. My right middle toe is bruised, I assume this might be my first toenail to fall off. We’ll see. No pain or anything, but bruised underneath. I guess I should get used to that if I’m going to do more trail ultras. Especially since I have “hand” feet. The middle toe sticks out further than all the rest. As long as it’s not a pain concern, oh well! Just another “badge of honor”. ha!
Monday, October 29, 2012
This race came about because of a tip from a fellow Stone Mill 50 Mile runner. We’d chatted on a forum about training together, and she mentioned that she was planning to run this race for a final long run. I looked it up. A free race, tough terrain, and right when I was planning to get in another 30 miler. I could do 30 miles before, on the NCR Trail, alone and unsupported, or I could run this and have aid stations and fellow runners. What would you do? I, of course, choose to run my first 50K three weeks before my first 50 miler. Can you say nutso!
I, in turn, mentioned this race to another fellow SM50 runner, Nick, who I ran with several weeks back. He was interested, but on the fence due to other potential obligations. As race day got closer, he decided to go for it, only to be told by the race director that they were over capacity. He decided to run a similar route, on the same day, unassisted. It’s not like the course was the sole property of the race directors right? A smart move on his part, because quite a few runners didn’t show up, and many more did not run the full 50K. Being that it was a “Fat Ass”, that’s totally acceptable. From what I can gather, a Fat Ass race is far from formal. It’s kind of a cross between a race and a fun run. No official clocks, no medals, or t-shirts. Just strong support, a good group of runners, and a long day of grueling running ending typically with a cookout or such.
Friday Night – Solo Camping
The original internet flyer for the race mentioned camping the night before, and I was interested, so I emailed the race director, but he was unaware of anyone else planning to camp. I could NOT miss out on an opportunity to camp in the “Blair Witch woods”, this course takes place about 3 miles from Burkittsville, MD, where the three film makers entered the fictitious “Black Hills Woods” Yeah, technically not the same woods, but who cares. I chose to camp alone.
Was it particularly scary, no. Nothing any different than camping somewhere else. My biggest concern was having a state park employee come by and tell me I have to move because I wasn’t in a designated camping location. It didn’t happen. In fact, the only thing of any significance was one two occasions, a car pulled into the parking area, and it looked like people were smoking something. Maybe it’s a good place for teens to come smoke a joint. Other than that, it was pretty cold and I woke up several times to pee and/or cover myself up more.
Start to First Aid Station
I awoke the next morning and quickly packed up the camping gear, changed into my running clothes, and ate some breakfast. Nick left a drop bag near the first aid station, then headed towards the start. Since he wasn’t officially registered for the race, he held back from the race start and met up with my about a mile into the race, but before it started he came over and we chatted a bit. Shortly before the start, I dropped my contributions to the aid stations, and checked in. No bib, but we were tracked with a sharpie marked number. The Race Director gathered us all around, made some announcements, and unceremoniously told us to “go”.
We were off. The race started with a short 1 mile loop North of the start, before heading south for about 5 miles along the Appalachian Trail on what is called South Mountain to Weverton Cliffs. This first mile was decently hilly and I chatted along with a few people as we traversed the terrain. Looping back through the start area, I met up with Nick and we took of towards Weverton Cliffs. The trail was relatively flat, with some ups and downs, but the biggest concern were the wet leaves and hidden rocks. We were moving along at a decent pace. I wasn’t wanting to go very fast, given that this was supposed to be only a training run. Soon, we hit the Weverton Cliffs area. There was a short descent to the overlook which had an outstanding view of the Potomac River. A few minutes of picture taking, then we were descending the switchbacks to the first aid station. I knew this section was going to come back and haunt me, little did I know just how much.
It didn’t take too long to get down the cliffs, and we were back on flat ground. Crossing a road, and short jaunt later, we made it to the first aid station (Mile 8.2). There was plenty of food to be had. Gatorade, sodas, candy, PBJ, and more. I loaded up while Nick grabbed stuff from his drop bag. Only a few minutes were spent here, then we hit the trail down towards the C&O Canal.
Aid Station One to Aid Station Two
This was a short section, mostly along the C&O Canal. The was a short 1/2 mile section down to the C&O Canal tow path, and from there we had roughly 3.5 miles of flat, crushed granite before reaching the next aid station. I was running fine. Just enjoying the day, no need to rush it. I think Nick had other ideas though. Once we hit the tow path, he decided he wanted to kick it up a bit, and make up the mile he missed. He told me he was going to run down awhile, then backtrack, trying to make up that mile. No problem, I didn’t want to hold him back at all. So I hoofed it solo for a bit. There were several other runners near me, and I hooked up with a nice older guy dressed as Batman. Not the dark knight, Christian Bale version; but the campy Adam West version. I held back with him for awhile, but eventually sped back up some. Shortly after that, Nick met back up with me. We compared distances, and were more or less equal now. He must have been flying to catch up nearly a mile on me!
With about 1/2 mile to go before the next aid station, we ran together. This section had beautiful scenery of Harper’s Ferry, the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, and the cliffs of Maryland Heights, the next section of our race. To get to the aid station, we had to pass the MD Heights trail head, and go an additional 1/4 mile to the aid station. As before, there was plenty to be had. The volunteers were awesome, refilling water packs and getting us anything we needed.
Maryland Heights Trail
After leaving the second aid station we had to run back about 1/4 mile to the Maryland Heights Trailhead. I”ve run Maryland Heights before (link), it’s one tough cookie! The terrain is mostly better than the AT trail section from the beginning of the race, but the incline is a killer! We ascended 1200 feet in less than 2 miles. As we began ascending, we hooked up with several other people. It was tough going, especially for me. The steep incline was getting my back. I fell behind somewhat but was able to catch up with the group by the end of the ascension… except for Nick. He was kicking butt and was nowhere to be found by the time the rest of the group reached the top. While they took a break, I took a quick stop for a few pictures, the I hit the road.
Running along the top ridge was difficult. The terrain became very rocky for quite awhile, further slowing me down. After a mile or so, I hit the short trail down to the Maryland Heights Overlook, and shortly ran into Nick, on his way back up from the overlook. He was going strong, and said he was going to continue at that pace. It was the last I saw of him until I finished. By the time I made it down to the Overlook and got some pictures, the rest of the group caught me and A few of us descended the rest of the trail together. I was a bit slower than them and ended up having some laughs because of it. Two girls were dressed as "runaway brides”. I heard quite a few comments about them getting married and running in their wedding “dresses”. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I heard it. After the descent, we were to return to the second aid station before crossing the river to Harper’s Ferry. I made it back feeling tired, but otherwise in good shape. Loading up on goodies and water, they were offering some pizza, but I declined having a piece for fear it might upset my stomach. In hind sight, I wonder if I’d have faired better with that boast of carbs in my belly for the last part of the race.
I left the aid station shortly after “The Brides” and stayed about 100 yards behind them until the bridge across the Potomac River. It was very crowded, and by the time I crossed, I’d lost them. Alone again, I hit a restroom for a much needed potty break, then began the difficult task of following guided directions through town. It was sort of like a scavenger hunt without scavenging anything. Directions such as “Ascend the irregular 'Bloody Steps' - stone steps carved into the rock.” or “Turn left and follow the .2 mile blue-blazed AT side-trail along the wide brick, then concrete sidewalks.” Yeah, it was a challenge. I ascended those “Bloody Steps”, passed Jefferson’s Rock, and headed towards the cemetery. I came across two fellow runners, separately, about 2 minutes apart. Both got lost and were headed back to cross the bridge and return to the finish. I kept going. Soon, I entered the cemetery. This would have been quite creepy, had it been at night, but in the bright light of day, it was unimpressive. If I’d had time, I would have explored it some more. I pushed on, running towards an old college, then searching for some old stone steps that lead me down to the AT Trail again. There was some construction in the area, making the directions impassable. Then…. off in the distance…. I saw a blue-blaze, which I was sure was the path I needed. Between it and me, a small construction zone. I jumped the fence, passed through the construction area, and jumped the other side reaching my target.
Coming down these steps, I saw two fellow races about 100 feet ahead of me. I pressed on, catching them just as we were to cross a road. Then, as luck would have it, there were “The Brides” coming from the wrong direction. They must have left the AT in the wrong spot, turned the wrong way, and run a little while before turning around and crossing out paths.
And then there were five of us. We somehow found our way back to Harper’s Ferry proper, and headed across the bridge. All we had left was to follow the C&O Canal back to the first aid station, ascend South Mountain at Weverton Cliffs, and run the five miles back to the finish. No big deal right? Wrong!
Running with this group was quite fun. We were joking around, enjoying the run. Shortly after getting onto the C&O we came to a family, and a little girl handed one of “The Brides” a bouquet of flowers she had been collecting. It was clear, the family thought “The Brides” had actually gotten married, and the little girl was so happy to give them the flowers, so we ran with it. After a few pictures and thank you’s, we were off again. The impending climb began to weigh on my mind, and I ended up stopping to walk…Big mistake.
The four of them soon left me in the dust, and it was solo going the rest of the race. About a mile left on the C&O and my mind hit a bad place. I had intended to get some walking in to build my energy back up for the climb, but instead, I became disheartened and struggled to make it to the aid station. Hopeful that some refreshments would, well, refresh me, I pushed on just in time to see the four leaving the aid station as I approached it. I learned that I was the final runner to come through, loaded up, and began the my ascent of South Mountain.
South Mountain to the Finish
1,000 feet over the next two miles, that’s what I was facing. Then after that a roughly 4.75 mile trek along the ridge to the finish. This section did not go well. About 100 yards after the last aid station and I was headed up the mountain. Slow… dead slow. My back was getting to me again, similar to Maryland Heights. The big difference, this was rocky switchbacks, not a slow steady fire road. Not to mention, about 11 miles later too, and I was solo this time. Needless to say, I was struggling big time. “If only I can make it to the top, the rest will be cake.”, I kept telling myself. It was slow going, quite a few stops to catch my breath, and I finally made the top ridge.
I was dead in the water. My legs felt good, surprisingly, but I had ZERO energy to run. Even walking was tasking me. I really needed some motivation, so I broke out the music. I’m not much for listening to music, but “It's times like these you learn to live again”. This helped… some. At some point, I felt like my stomach was getting upset, maybe something at the last aid station didn’t agree with me. It must have been that green tea ginger ale. Typically, if my stomach bothers me, I’ll feel much better if I puke, knowing this, I stopped, leaned over and induced vomiting.
Sure enough, after catching my composure, drinking some water, and nibbling on a granola bar, I was feeing better. Good enough to break out some running. I was going fairly well, for about 1/2 mile. Then my energy waned again and I was back to struggling. This continued on until I was about 1/2 a mile out. The end was in sight, almost literally, and I pushed through. I was determined to not only finish, but finish running and not dejectedly walking to the finish. I pulled out every reserve but of energy I had and finished that last 1/2 a mile at a relatively speedy 14 minute pace! As I approached the pavilion where the post-race cookout was, I heard a lot of people cheering me on. It wasn’t like a standing ovation or anything, but it felt great to have a handful of people I’d only met 10 hours before, congratulating me on the finish. I didn’t catch the exact time, so I’m rounding it to the minute, making my first ultramarathon completion in 9 hours 33 minutes flat. Slow yes, but who cares! I completed my first ultramarathon.
Cookout, and Reflection
After stopping, I was ravenous. I grabbed a big plate of goodies, including a burger and a few hot dogs. I’m not much of a meat eater, but boy did they taste good! I met up with Nick, and found out that he not only finished strong, but decided to tack on nearly 5 more miles after he finished!! Overachiever! J/K. A big congrats to him for having an awesome day. I sat around chatting with several people, all of them reassuring me that Stone Mill 50 Miler would be easy compared to the hills today. Yeah, it’s 20 miles longer, but on much tamer terrain and elevation. Soon, we packed up, and I made the trek home. Ending a very challenging, but very rewarding day, only to come home to Hurricane Sandy…
Reflecting back on this race, a number of things contributed to my paltry finish. One, I ate at aid stations, but didn’t gorge myself, and between aid stations, I didn’t do a great job of fueling up. Two, my hydration was fine, but I was drinking only water. I tried to eat lots of salty items at the aid stations, but I should rethink adding some electrolytes to my hydration. Maybe I should carry a handheld bottle for an electrolyte mix. Three, I really need to work on my mental toughness. I fully expect to hit that mental low point again at Stone Mill 50. Until race day, my biggest goal is to focus on ways to beat the mental games my mind uses against me. I’m physically ready, but mentally, I need work. Four, my knee really did not give me any trouble at all. A couple of minor twinges in the first half, but the second half, there was nothing. Not a peep out of my knee. I wouldn’t say it’s recovered, but if it can take the physical abuse of those hills, and not give me any trouble or soreness the next day, it’s time I quite worrying about it so much!
Stone Mill 50…. you’re next…. bring it!!!
Friday, October 26, 2012
“Try a thing you haven't done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not.” – Virgil Thomson
They say three times a charm. Well in this case, it truly is. My third Army Ten Miler came off without a hitch. Ready to dive into the nitty gritty?? Here we go!
Mrs Runners Bug (AKA MRB, AKA Jen) loves the Army Ten Miler expo. We always make it a family affair to drive into DC to pick up my race packet, and peruse the expo venders, this year was no exception. After a good drive down, we sat in parking lot traffic a good 20 minutes before finally getting a parking spot. From there, I got my packet while MRB registered the kiddos for the youth run. More about that later though.
After getting the required logistics out of the way, we hit the expo booths. The regulars were there, several stores, lots of sponsors, but MRBs favorite groups weren’t there, the Women’s Running Magazine, and the RunDisney group. She was disappointed. I did try out a portable TENS unit on my left knee, but there is no way in hell I’m going to pay $175 for that. Still, I enjoyed the five minutes of free stimulation
Next, we headed outside to the Army exhibits. First up was a Blackhawk helicopter, then several examples of combat arms were on display, along with a pontoon boat. The kiddos enjoyed playing around with them.
After that, we headed out of DC, hit up a few stores, and had the token pre-race pasta. Yum! We got home, and it was lights out well before 10pm.
Jolting awake at 4am by an obnoxiously loud alarm clock is never a fun thing, but on race day, it’s much more tolerable. We were meeting a coworker of mine at the DC metro station at 5:15 so it was a rush to get ready and out the door on time. MRB did not sleep well, so she was out. The kids were out, and I was feeling good.
At the metro station, the kids got their hair sprayed red while we froze our butts off waiting for the next train. My coworker, Christie, arrived just before I did, and we found her on the platform.
The ride down took about 45 minutes, and we chatted while MRB got stuff ready, and the kids fought to wake up.
The last two years, coming out of the metro station underneath the Pentagon was an awesome and overwhelming sight. My first year, it was the first time I’d ever done a large race, and just the experience was awesome. Last year, it was a total mess with racers not knowing which way to go and mass confusion. This year, it was simple. We arrived way early, making if far from crowded yet. MRB and the kids were freezing and I needed to visit a port-o-potty, so we said our goodbyes at the racer’s entrance.
Christie and I headed towards the corrals and hit up the potty. Looking at the watch, we had close to two hours to spare before race time. Fun! Standing in the cold wind without much to do but chat. There were several parachuters that jumped above the Pentagon, which took our attention away from the freezing cold. Soon, the National Anthem played, we hit the port-o-potties one last time and prepared for the start.
The Race Is On (Miles 1-3)
After the gun went off at 8am, we still had 20 minutes before our wave (5) was to start. Things went much smoother than last year. Each wave moved up at the appropriate time, and all was well. As our wave got to the starting line, the tension was building. everyone was cold, excited, and crammed in together. As soon as we crossed the start, we were off. Immediately, I noticed my feet felt frozen stiff. It wasn’t actually freezing, but boy did it feel like it.
Christie and I went out together chatting away and enjoying the race. About 100 yards into the race, and the “Pee’ers” were hitting the bushes. To be honest, I toyed with the idea of going myself, but I resisted. The first mile is a straight shot down the highway towards Arlington Cemetery then a tight circle around and over a bridge. until the circle, we were packed, but runnable. Once we hit the circle, everyone tightened in slowing us down, but it cleared back up (relatively speaking) once we were crossing the bridge with a straight shot towards the Lincoln Memorial. (A side note, MRB and I were debating the difference between a Memorial and a Monument while on the metro. We’ve not come to a definitive answer as to the difference. If anyone knows, please let me know!)
We were moving around a 10:00 pace, and I kept telling Christie not to feel like she had to stick with me. She, on the other hand, was saying the same to me. I wasn’t going slower on her account, I just tend to start off slow then speed up. Trucking along, we exchanged the camera for a few photos, but I could tell she was tiring. Shortly after mile 2, she started falling behind, and by around the 2.5 mark, I couldn’t see her. She was engulfed by the sea of runners.
Somewhere around this point was the first aid station. With my trusty hydration pack in tow, I headed to the far side of the road and enjoyed the ephemeral lack of runners allowing me to pick up the pace some. I was in good shape, the crowd was cheering, and I picked up the pace some more.
Just a Running (Miles 4-5)
Settling into a good grove when I hit Virginia Ave., I was steadily gaining ground. The pack thinned somewhat, and I stuck to the left shoulder, hopping onto the grass often to pass slower runners. This section is the most boring, in my opinion. Office buildings abound, but the one cool thing is passing by the Watergate. Not much else to say about this stretch.
Around mile 4, we made the turn along the Potomac, and the Kennedy Center. The scenery is wonderful here, and I’ve always enjoyed this section. Today, this is where I started noticing some aching in my left knee. It wasn’t bad, just enough for me to notice it, but it didn’t slow me down at all. Cautious with the sidewalks, but I was moving fine.
The Mall (Miles 5-7)
The Mile 5 marker was just as we were hitting the mall area, my favorite part of the race! Running down Independence Ave. we passed the Washington Monument (or is it a memorial?), the Smithsonian Castle, and several other Smithsonian buildings. Bringing back fond (and not so fond) memories of my days working this area, I was reminded of just how much I lOVE my current job.
Part of my love for this race is the flood of emotions I get when running the course. I work for the Army and have a huge attachment to it, but I had some rough times working in DC. Running this section always makes me think of just how thankful I am where I am today.
Ok, enough with the sappy emotional stuff, back to the race!
Running along Independence Ave. with loads of spectators cheering us on, it reminds me of a ticker-tape parade. At the 14th Street intersection, an added bonus. the road is divided with Eastbound and Westbound runners. It’s fun to watch my fellow runners pass by. Along this section, I passed not one, but two Captain Americas. One was running holding an American flag.
A disappointment with this years race was the turnaround. Two years ago, the course had us run right in front of the Capitol building. Last year, we ran by it, but on the other side of the reflection pond (still a good view). This year, we didn’t even come close! Before even hitting the Air & Space Museum, we headed south for a circle around a block. Boo! Bring back the Capitol next year!!
The Bridges (Miles 8-9)
Right after the Mile 7 marker, we took the left at 14th Street, for a near straight shot across the Potomac River and back to the Pentagon. For many, this section is the worst part of the race. For me, I like it. It’s more or less a straight shot. The abrupt turn off of the Mall area gives it a sense of completion. The huge crowd section is over. We’ve made it, now we just have to return to the Pentagon. The last two years, this section was fairly sparse, pack-wise. I was hoping the same would be true, and I’d have an easier time picking up some speed. Not so this year, the pack remained constant.
Around mile 8, I ran past a group of medics attending to someone. As I approached the scene, I saw a fellow runner laying on a stretcher, blood smeared everywhere on him. His neck was in a brace, and the medics were prepping him for transport. Poor guy! My only thought is that he must have been booking it hard and had an accident (been there, done that)
The Finish (Mile 10)
Hitting the Mile 9 marker, I was anxious to gain some ground. I was feeling good, a little too good for being 9/10ths of the way done. I needed to speed it up, but it was virtually impossible. The pack was tightening up. We knew it was almost over. Coming off the exit ramp, I knew I still had a good 1/2-3/4 of a mile to go. At this point last year, I thought I had one more turn and done. Not so. The finishing line was moved last year from previous years. I wasn’t prepared for that in 2011, but this year, I was. I hit the hair-pin turn, dropped it into second gear (so-to-speak) and started passing people hard. The pack was getting even tighter, but I was dead set on gaining as much ground as possible. Up, over the last bridge, and the finish line was in sight. And then, it was over. I crossed the line at 1:35:24 and spent the next 5 minutes walking to get out of the chute. This has got to be the longest finishing chute of any race! I picked up my finishers coin, and hooked up with Jen and the kids. Shortly after, I got word from Christie that she finished under 2 hours. Yay!
I shattered my original goal of 10 miles at 10:00 pace by nearly 30 seconds per mile. I was going strong the entire race. I didn’t even stop at aid stations. I didn’t get the chance to speed up those last three, like I wanted, but I still rocked it. My knee was irritated around mile 4 to around mile 6-7, but it seemed to clear up after that. I PRed and quite happy with the results. Next year, I’m hoping for a sub 9:00 pace!
Jen had signed the kids up for the youth run, and we had awhile before it started. Shortly before, Jen asked me to head to the finishing line so I could get good pics. It didn’t happen. Me, and several others got there early to get a good view. Unfortunately, a couple of minutes before the race, a ton of parents filled the finishing area, obstructing us civilized parents that were waiting behind the fence area.
The race started, but I was unable to get any good pics of Paige or Connor. Quickly, it was over. No pics of them, Much to Jen’s dismay, but they did come away with some awesome medals. Seriously, the youth run medals are better than some I’ve gotten for real races! Finally I found them, and we headed out to meet some friends for yummy Mexican food.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Just checking in to say I rocked the Army Ten Miler. As my faithful followers recall, I went with a conservative goal of 10 miles at 10:00 per mile. I finished in 1:35:24, a whopping 9:32 pace. My knee has some moments of tenderness about mid-way, but loosened up the last half. Report to follow. I sure hope my knee feels fine tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Two of my co-workers recently ran in the Ragnar series. I got to watch (more like hear about it) their training progressing. Early morning runs and weight lifting, but in addition, but are avid bikers and many days they will take a bike ride during lunch. That's after doing a morning of PT. They're no leisure riders either. It's strap-the-feet-in butt kicking rides. Other soldiers I work with are just as dedicated to training. Some day's there might be as many as five bikers at lunch. It's amazing, come lunch time, to see many people dressed out for exercise. We work in preventive medicine, and many of us are leading by example when it comes to physical fitness, and it's not just my military co-workers either. Quite a few of my fellow civilian employees are also dedicated exercise aficionados. One co-worker and I frequently head to the gym together. If it wasn't for her, I most likely would not have become a gym rat recently.
I'm talking about The Army and physical fitness because this coming Sunday is the Army Ten Miler race. This will be my third straight year running it, and I'm excited, but nervous as well. A month ago, I was looking forward to the race, and planning on kicking some butt compared to the last two years. Life was good, my running was going well, and I knew I could do a sub 10:00 pace no problem, probably closer to a 9:00. I'm not so sure now, with having some knee concerns of late. I've not gotten in any good paced runs in awhile. Training for a 50 mile trail race is much different than a 10 mile road race. It's not about speed, but endurance, and I've been training hard for that.
I've given my strategy a lot of thought the last few days, and I've settled on shooting for a 10:00 pace. Not too difficult considering some of my recent speed runs. Heck, on August 31st, my last race, I ran 6.5 miles at a 9:33 pace, in near complete darkness. I should be able to handle 10 at 10:00. Especially with the amazing atmosphere of the Army Ten Miler. There it is, my simple goal. 10 at 10:00, along with no knee troubles before, during, or after the race. :)
Oh, and to tie it back to work. Myself, those fellow co-workers that ran Ragnar, and a few more will be running ATM as Team Tango Sierra. We had a much cooler name, but it was struck down by our Commander.
Run on and, Hooah!