Revenge of the Penguins 20 miler 2013

GEORGETOWN Washington DC, September 15 2013

A very flat race on the C&O Canal Towpath. I’d hoped to beat three hours and was under that pace through about 12 miles, but crashed in the last eight and wound up finishing in 3:19:31. A 20 mile PR by default.

I was accompanied at this race by four FotBs (Friends of The Boss):

    • A. was running her first 10 miler (a companion race to the 20). She finished a little over her goal time, but gained confidence going into the upcoming Wilson Bridge Half.
    • K. and Ca. were using the race as a long training run in preparation for the Marine Corps Marathon. They did not run together but finished within a minute of each other anyway, pretty much right on their goal time.
    • Cy. was running her first 20 miler and babying an injured foot. She started out running with K., but K. dropped her when she lingered at an aid station after complaining of dizziness. When A. and I saw K. return with no Cy. and heard what had happened we were a little concerned that we’d later find her floating in the canal. But after about 30 minutes we saw her coming down the trail, finishing at a dead sprint trying to beat out the guy she’d been running with the last few miles.

This was a small race, with only some 300 finishers between the two distances, but the support was very friendly and well-organized. I’d like to do this race again when I am better trained.

Miles this race – 20
Miles raced in 2013 – 231

Parks Half Marathon 2013

ROCKVILLE Maryland, September 8 2013

It was still a little warm, but almost getting down to good running temperatures. This was the first time I have run this race when the course was dry – the previous two times (2010, 2012) were after fairly heavy rainfall.

I am getting to the point where I know this course pretty well, which means I am about ready to stop running this race. It’s a little strange that I feel this way about road races*, but the opposite about races on trails.

I have been injured most of the year and training has been very light, so I didn’t expect to perform particularly well. I lived up to this expectation, finishing in 1:52:23 – pretty much right in the middle of my two prior times. I did manage to run the whole distance without walking, which was encouraging after a rough summer’s results.

*Much of the Parks Half is on trails, but they’re smooth, paved trails.

A few recollections:

  • Around mile 6 it strikes me that there seems to be a lot less music on the course than last year. Just a little later we round a bend and there is a guy in a tuxedo playing a grand piano for the runners. A tall dude running next to me yells out “Freebird!” and I’m thinking “douche” – but then the guy starts to play it! A few runners let out obligatory whoops and somebody asks for a lighter. I immediately revise my estimate of the tall dude’s douche status. This really lifted my spirits for the second half of the race.
  • In the last mile I notice a guy just in front of me is looking rough, shuffling along with his feet barely rising off the ground. Just as I am about to pass him he trips over something and faceplants, landing spreadeagled on the ground with a cringe-inducing “Unghf!” A lame “You OK, bro?” is all I can manage as I nip around to his left. I look back and am relieved to see that he’s back his feet, looking not much worse for wear.
  • Just a little later I see Michael Wardian running back down the course, calling encouragement to us mid-pack runners. I holler out “Mike!” and say to the girl beside me “That was Michael Wardian,” but she doesn’t know who he is. I later find out he finished 15th.
  • The Boss’s friend C completes her first half-marathon in a quite decent time, supported by Boss-friend K. C complains of cramps and soreness, but looks very happy with her achievement.
  • When we arrive at the metro for the ride back to the start I notice an older gentlemen with a race bib gingerly walking backwards down the stairs. He looks like he’s really suffering. I offer my standard commiseration – “That’s how I feel too!” – even though I didn’t really feel quite that bad – and am rewarded with a grin.
  • The Boss sets a new PR for the half marathon distance: 2:18:17.

Inaugural Mt. Nittany Marathon

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania, September 1 2013

It was too freakin’ hot.

I would not have considered running this event – or any long race where there is a chance of temperatures over 80F – except for a confluence of four factors:

  • I wanted to scout the course* of the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler, which was just a few miles down the road.
  • I had not yet colored Pennsylvania in on my map.
  • I’ve been finding excuses to avoid or cut short my long training runs, and I figured that being in an official event would be good incentive to complete the distance.
  • It was the first year for this event, so at least for one year I can say I’ve run it every time it’s been held.

The organization was outstanding. There may have been more volunteers than runners, and they were uniformly friendly and enthusiastic. The first half of the course was somewhat rural and scenic. The second half was less so. The roads were not closed except for a short stretch in the beginning and another at the end.

Final time, 4:51:26, a personal worst by some eleven minutes, and almost an hour slower than my previous marathon time. From now on I’m sticking to October through April for long races**.

Miles this race – 26.2
Miles raced in 2013 – 197.9

*While I was scouting the course I drove over a rattlesnake which was stretched out in the road. I stopped the car and got out to see if he was OK. He was coiled up and vigorously rattling at me. I figured that if I’d hit him it would have been either his head or his tail, and both parts still seemed intact and menacing. I called it good and skedaddled.

**This is probably a lie.

Marine Corps Historic Half 2013

FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia, May 19 2013

Ambitious goal: 1:45:00
Fallback Goal: 2:00:00

Not much to say about this race. At last year’s event I had run a trail half marathon the day before and suffered from cramps after the halfway point, posting my worst half marathon finish by far.

The course is difficult and I’ve basically not trained at all the entire year, so I knew I was unlikely to PR. I figured anything under two hours I was good with. I was more interested in seeing how The Boss performed in only her second road half.

As usual, I started pretty strong but faded late. My first two 5k splits were identical: 24:36. This turned out to be too ambitious for the hilly course, and I was reduced to walking a few short stretches of the second half. The weather was decently cool, but there was a light rain falling throughout most of the race.

I ended up finishing in 1:52:41. My third fastest road half, but also my third slowest.

The Boss was not ready for the challenging course either, but she did break her PR by about a minute per mile, finishing in 2:25:55.

Miles this race – 13.1
Miles raced in 2013 – 145.1

An ultrarunner, am I?

On Mon, Feb 4, 2013 at 11:51 PM, Steve Gadd wrote: “so you finish a marathon, and instead of sitting and resting and gloating, you … do a marathon: boggle”

Thus did this wannabe grapple with the concept of a 50-mile trail race, the 2013 Bull Run Run. My first two official races were a local 5K in 2010 and the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011, so I don’t mind skipping over intermediate distances, but I had plenty of time to train up for my first marathon. The Bull Run Run was coming up in two months and would extend my maximum distance by over twenty miles, as well as adding an awful lot of hills. The organizers talk these hills down — “An elevation profile map would be a straight line with a lot of very little bumps” — as if a breath-stealing hike up a minor mountain is no big deal compared to the uncommonly long horizontal distance you are expected to cover.

I also had plenty of mental time to worry about the October marathon, since I had to commit far in advance during a frenzied registration in February, allowing plenty of time for research and a pretty regular training regimen, albeit on my lazy once-a-week schedule. The BRR, in contrast, is a model of fairness and sobriety, with no mad browser refreshing, no panic buying under a deadline. In fact it is a seductive trap, promising all manner of outs while you are still unsure of the whole concept. The initial signup is free, so there’s no good reason not to sign up. Then they hold a lottery to cut the number of runners down to 350, so you can let fate decide for you. Except there aren’t very many more than 350 applicants, so most everyone gets in. Then you have to pay, within some comfortable amount of days, or someone on the waitlist will take your spot. But even then it’s hard to make excuses, since you can transfer your registration later. It’s all very seductive, and suddenly the race is a week away, you haven’t been running for a month, and you realize you really want to at least start this thing, just to see what happens.

We got going at first light, right at 6:30. The first ten miles were just fine, easy and fun. Ray and I started near the back of the pack, with no complaints about the energy-conserving traffic jams. According to plan, we walked up anything with a positive grade from the start. There were lines for troublesome rocky passages and stream crossings, another excuse to break cadence for a minute or two.

Ray kept me company a while, then said something about “moving up a few positions” and that was the last time I saw him going the same direction. At the Reston ten-miler in March, I was too disciplined with maintaining my pace and did nothing to keep up when he pulled ahead. If I had pushed harder, I probably would have flamed out before the end, or been more hampered by blisters, but an hour now seems like a pretty short time to suffer for a cause. This time my conservative goal was to finish a marathon distance — barely more than half the course — so I was determined to observe the mantra “my race, my pace.”

My goals were, in increasing order of desirability:

  1. Cover 26.3 miles: Beat my distance record, in the hills. This seemed like an accomplishment, especially since I had run fewer than 50 miles total all year. I would have to find a place to declare myself a quitter, then make my way back to the start/finish, head hanging. My first DNF.
  2. Do the marathon distance and keep going until breakdown. Less convenient, more noble.
  3. Finish the course before the cutoff time of 13 hours. This seemed too unlikely an outcome to give much thought to.

The first aid station was at mile 7. Not needing my stopwatch to time the event (the time of day, or even the movement of the sun was accurate enough), I decided to use it to measure my stopped time at aid stations and other interruptions. I spent over four minutes at that first stop, walking in circles, confused, trying to figure out what to eat and what to do. I had already eaten a Clif bar and maybe a gel. I grabbed a cookie and a potato chip and drank some Gatorade, and used it to wash down my first S-Cap. Then I saw the sign indicating that we would be back after 4.5 miles and realized I was wasting time. I moved on.

Soon, the leader passed me going the other way. As usual on the trail, my brain was overwhelmed with thoughts of root-avoidance and it took me a second to realize that he was in my race and that the first turnaround was ahead. The expressions of the lead runners (certainly not jogger/walkers like me) were positively inspiring, showing hunger and drive and determination. I continued along the sometimes rocky, sometimes muddy trail, now watching ahead for oncoming traffic.

The first thought of quitting came during the eighth mile.

I hit the first turnaround after about two hours, 9.3 miles. Overall pace 12:38. I recalled prior estimation that a 15 minute/mile pace would get a runner to the finish on time with a bit of cushion, and I started performing the tedious, simple calculations that would tax my mind for most of the day. I also counted the people I saw behind me after the turn. By the time the crowds thinned there were about 70. A few stragglers and a few passes got me up into the mid-80s by the time I got back to the aid station. I restarted my stopwatch and added another two minutes to my stoppage time, refilled my bottle with water and remembered to dump the trash I had been carrying since before the first stop.

Ten miles in 2 hours 5 minutes; overall 12:30 pace.

mile / pace / elevation (ft)
1 / 11:54 / -39
2 / 13:37 / -101
3 / 12:19 / -14
4 / 12:48 / +27
5 / 13:37 / +74
6 / 11:52 / -55
7 / 11:56 / -51
8 / 13:53 / -11 (aid station)
9 / 11:57 / +17
10 / 11:34 / -2

The next ten miles were not painful, but I slowed down significantly, from 12.5 minutes/mile to 14.5. I was still on track to beat the cutoff, but didn’t know what to expect in the afternoon. The weather was perfect in the morning, comfortably chilly, but it was supposed to get up to 70. I felt a need to eliminate, but it wasn’t urgent and I didn’t want to lose time squatting in the woods, watching my stopwatch count up idle minutes. I started making plans for when I reached my drop bag at the start/finish area near mile 16. I ate a second Clif bar to make space and made a mental review of my inventory.

I started the race with

  • my dirtier pair of sneakers
  • Drymax lite trail running socks (an excellent recommendation)
  • compression shorts
  • bathing trunks (left front pocket for gels, right for trash)
  • Nathan Triangle belt carrying water, two white chocolate macadamia nut Clif bars, three or four Gu gels, and two small zippered pockets transferred from another belt with Band-Aids, tissues, S-Caps, ibuprofen
  • smartphone in armband with Runkeeper recording
  • digital watch
  • tech shirt
  • hat
  • sunblock cadged from Ray, mixed with borrowed bug spray, tasted awful

My drop bag contained

  • spare shoes
  • spare socks
  • spare shirts
  • spare belt
  • headphones (prohibited during the early part of the course)
  • Chia seeds (with some mixed in 8 ounces of water)
  • Snickers bar
  • Clif bars
  • Pop-tarts
  • assorted gels
  • Body Glide anti-chafing stick
  • athletic wrap
  • Band-Aids
  • tissues
  • cell phone charger and cable
  • flashlight
  • paperback

It should have also contained

  • water
  • Gatorade
  • lip balm
  • sunblock
  • towel
  • wet wipes

I spent an unconscionable amount of time fussing with my drop bag despite careful planning. Before the race I had done my best by the instructions for the anti-chafing stuff: “APPLY WHERE NEEDED.” I had never needed it before and so rubbed it on places I imagined were likely to be annoyed by a day on the run. Now I added more around my waist where the belt was rubbing. My phone was still mostly charged, but I plugged in the backup charger and put it in my pocket, feeding the cable through my shirt. I was afraid I might be stranded somewhere remote come evening. I emptied and restuffed the belt pocket, rooting for more gels I felt sure I brought. I put the headphones in a pocket in case I needed inspiration later, but would never use them. I chugged the chia seed mix. I then walked the aid station, which was looking more like the sizable buffet later stations would have.

My estimated position was 92 from the back. In recent years roughly 30 starters failed to finish, so I felt like I was in a good spot. I was determinedly walking the rises with a hunched-over, knuckle-dragging Neanderthal plod, and usually returning to a regular trot at the top. I felt like I did pretty well on the climbs, where I executed a lot of my passes. Going up one hill, I noticed a novelty: I could hear my heartbeat. It made it easy to measure my pulse, 150 bpm. Safe enough, but I decided I wouldn’t start running while I could hear my heart pounding. Fortunately, after that climb I never heard it again. There were also some tricky descents which I also walked, telling myself I was avoiding a turned ankle but also glad of the excuse to take a break.

I chatted briefly with some other runners and eavesdropped on others, but usually didn’t keep pace with anyone long enough for much conversation. I tried to memorize bib numbers of interesting participants, but couldn’t keep them straight. There was a surprising amount of math involved in the endeavor. Simple arithmetic, but I couldn’t divide by 4 with my legs, where most of the oxygen was going. I calculated again and again my ETA based on a 15 minute per mile pace, never trusting the result. I maintained a count of the runners behind me. I kept track of the number of cumulative minutes I was ahead, and later behind, my target pace. Finally I focused on the number of minutes of cushion I estimated I had — how far ahead of the final cutoff I would be if I maintained 4 mph for the rest of the course.

Twenty miles in 4 hours 27 minutes; overall 13:21 pace.

mile / pace / elevation (ft)
11 / 11:58 / -10
12 / 13:13 / +39 (aid station)
13 / 12:01 / -20
14 / 14:26 / +121
15 / 12:12 / -130
16 / 13:23 / +128
17 / 23:41 / -26 (drop bag)
18 / 12:48 / -45
19 / 13:42 / -85
20 / 13:59 / +23

The next ten miles were a slog. It wasn’t even noon of this all-day affair, and I was just approaching the halfway point. I began extending my walking sessions. At the start of each mile, I noted the time and added fifteen minutes for a target time. Then at the end of the mile, I subtracted the overage minutes from my cushion. I had calculated that 50 miles at 4 mph would give me one hour of cushion, and didn’t want to depend on it too much. I got a little boost passing the 25 mile mark, and soon after passed the marathon distance and recognized that every step was a new personal record for distance. But it was still a slog. I passed the imaginary point where I had estimated that I could quit and walk back to the finish if necessary, but wasn’t aware of it. The leaders had passed the second turnaround and started coming from the other direction, still running, still looking determined, though hollowed out somehow. Some of them were running up hills faster than I was running down them. That’s why they’re called leaders, I reasoned.

I entered the White Loop around mile 27, a two-mile detour that is omitted on the return leg, so there was no oncoming traffic and very little company. No witnesses: I walked the whole thing. I continued doing the math every mile, but it seemed obvious I was eating into my cushion at a rate that would lead to disqualification. Gradually my attitude shifted, from worrying about getting back to the finish somehow before dark, to resolving that I would keep moving forward on the damn course until somebody made me stop.

There were more aid stations, some with cute themes. I hated that some of my miles took a minute or two over my target because I stopped for chow, but knew I couldn’t afford to skip them. I worked out a strategy for a disciplined, efficient pit stop.

  • Run all the way into the aid station — you are about to take a break, you lazy slacker!
  • Stop running, start the stopwatch.
  • Hand off bottle for refill.
  • Dispose of trash. I often forgot this step.
  • Grab a PB&J sandwich quarter and a Gatorade cup, force them down.
  • Recover and stow bottle.
  • Refill or grab another cup, chomp some Pringles or cookies or something.
  • Grab two sandwich quarters.
  • Stop timer.
  • Walk out, eating sandwich.

This technique got me through an aid station in one to two minutes, depending on the crowd and the help. The support was amazing on this race, both in positive attitude and eagerness to render assistance. And the food was plentiful. I subsisted mostly on the PB&J quarter sandwiches, or peanut-butter-and-Nutella when available. Later in the day the bread was sometimes dried out, but I found the Kobayashi tactic of soaking a mouthful in Gatorade made the whole thing go down easier, and was not even disgusting. (I have not tasted peanut butter, jelly or Gatorade since, however.)

One aid station had an amazing spread. In addition to the sandwiches and cookies and chips and fruit, and a bowl of bacon, a side table was loaded with a comprehensive array of equipment. Vaseline, Body Glide, Band-Aids, aerosol sunscreen, bug spray, S-Caps, painkillers, and duct tape. I reapplied sunblock, took another S-Cap, and was glad I didn’t need the duct tape. I was taking the electrolyte capsules something less than once an hour, not sure if I should be more concerned with an overdose or a shortage. In the second half of the course I started refilling my bottle with Gatorade instead of water, and backed off a bit on the pills.

I plodded on. It was time for the Do Loop.

Thirty miles in 7 hours 22 minutes; overall 14:44 pace.

mile / pace / elevation (ft)
21 / 21:12 / +66
22 / 15:29 / -16
23 / 15:41 / +74
24 / 15:52 / -91
25 / 18:58 / +80
26 / 14:58 / -75
27 / 21:40 / +63 (White Loop)
28 / 19:20 / +26 (White Loop)
29 / 17:10 / -11
30 / 15:13 / -52

Ray was kind enough to offer me a room the night before at his place nearby, and a coach to provide rides and encouraging hugs. In March, he had taken me on a tour of the Do Loop and the White Loop, about 12 miles total of the course, which he knows up and down. This was invaluable intel, and to my shame was my last training run before the race, over a month in advance. So I felt at least mentally prepared for the loop at the southeastern end of the course, the name of which seems always to follow the word “infamous.”

A popsicle from the last outbound aid station was a good way to get started, and I kept to my pattern of taking a mile at a time and walking all the rises and most of the descents, of which there were plenty. I passed the Nash Rambler, picking up the Bruce Springsteen tune it was blasting in an endless loop and carrying it with me for the next several miles.

Finishing the Do Loop it was quiet and lonely, another one-way section. The hills were considerable, but not so very much more challenging than others throughout the course. I continued, mostly walking, starting to regret that I wouldn’t be getting the finisher’s premiums. I caught up, while walking, to a competitor who was busy texting. It was his first 50 as well, and he complained a bit that the course map did not have an elevation profile. He seemed to want to chat, but he was going even slower than I felt like going, so I marched ahead. I jogged now and then, eventually pulling up to a couple of guys who kept a very disciplined pace. They walked rises, but always picked it up again at the top. I decided to keep them in sight. They pulled me through some tough miles, and I even got ahead of them briefly when they lingered at an aid station. But eventually they faded out of sight ahead when I couldn’t convince myself to give up walking on a long level stretch. I’ll just walk a little longer, then start running. Just a little longer.

Then, someone came up from behind. I hadn’t been passed by anyone for some time. He had a shirt with words on it and a weird blue bib. Something wasn’t right. Then it clicked — he was a sweeper! I sped up, but the sweeper wasn’t subtle at all and left little distance between us. This was going to be the end; I had burned up my cushion and they would stop me at the next road crossing or aid station. Then I looked at my bib; it was also blue. He was just another runner. But he had put the fear in me. I popped a couple ibuprofen tablets, though I wasn’t in agony. It helped considerably; soon I was able to maintain a measured running pace again.

The math still seemed to be against me. I had realized that a 15-minute mile pace would only leave a 30-minute cushion before hitting the 13-hour cutoff for the finish, and I was sure I had already used it up, and my average speed was only getting slower. I arrived at an aid station and saw the coach again — she had given me an encouraging pep talk when I passed by outbound. This time she congratulated me on having become an ultramarathon runner. I said — optimistically I thought — that we would see. No no, she said it was in the bag, I just had to cover a little more ground to get to the marina and I could “walk it in” from there. That sounded appealing, but I was full of doubt and confusion. Reluctantly, I waved goodbye and rejoined the trail.

I plodded on, calculating and recalculating. I had finished 36 miles, and had less than four hours before cutoff. With my recent pace of 16 to 20 (!) minutes per mile, I wasn’t going to make it. Then I saw the sign: 10 miles to Hemlock Overlook, the finish. I pulled out my phone for the first time and counted the mile markers on my outbound track. It seemed right, the end was in sight! I finished the ten-miler a month before in 1 hour 21 minutes. Now half that speed would be sufficient, and that’s about as fast as I could manage. I adopted a face-saving lope when I saw people fishing or hiking on the trail ahead. It’s just too ridiculous to walk level ground with a race bib, no matter how long you’ve been going. One guy told me it was just a mile to the marina ahead, where I would pass the final aid station and then five miles to the finish. I took one more ibuprofen tablet and at some point sucked down a caffeine-loaded gel.

Forty miles in 10 hours 16 minutes; overall 15:24 pace.

mile / pace / elevation (ft)
31 / 17:46 / -16 (Do Loop)
32 / 16:16 / +38 (Do Loop)
33 / 20:30 / -29 (Do Loop)
34 / 16:57 / +54
35 / 16:10 / -17
36 / 17:00 / +55
37 / 15:59 / -43
38 / 17:09 / -84
39 / 16:35 / +81
40 / 19:19 / -77

I arrived at the last aid station at 5:10 p.m., awkwardly jogging in and thanking a spectator, who was clapping and calling out encouragement despite the fact that I was the only entrant in sight. While stuffing my face with my last PB&J sandwiches, I saw the posted cutoff for this location was 6 p.m. I had 49 minutes to spare, and knew for the first time that I was going to finish.

The record shows that I celebrated with a two-mile walk, posting my slowest consecutive miles since the White Loop promenade. But somewhere around mile 43 something came over me, and I entered a mode I didn’t know I had. Maybe it was the caffeine, maybe the thought of getting the thing done. I stepped up to a respectable run and started feeling great. The trail was flying by, and even the rises were no problem. My breathing was perfectly tuned, one breath for every two strides. I started passing people, eventually catching up to the pair I had tailgated for so long. They stepped to one side and one said “Have at it!” I just said thanks as people yielded the way, worried they would soon see me on the side of the trail, wheezing.

I came up to the tricky, rocky section alongside the river and hopped and jumped along, afraid the spell would end if I slowed. The river cut east after mile 44 and I pulled up behind a tall runner who seemed determined not to be passed. I paced her for several minutes, my shadow directly under her feet. Eventually she started making pained gasping noises, like a tennis player late in a match, and finally stepped to the side. I kept on, posting my fastest mile since noon.

Finally I slowed down for a breather and to suck some Gatorade, and thought I heard shouting. Could it be the finish? I picked up my feet again and rounded a bend, leaving the river behind. Instead of the finish line, I met a brutal, soul-crushing hill, as high as any I had seen all day (in fact I had already climbed the same hill, going to the drop bag, but that was just mile 16). I grudgingly hiked up to the top and started a determined jog. I had realized that I was coming up on twelve hours, and thought I could try to finish this project in half a day with a last good push. I was going to say as much to a lady I passed, but she looked like she was already digging deep. The cheers were now clear up ahead, and I turned a last corner and saw the finish. The clock read 11:59! I whipped off my hat and began sprinting the last fifty yards, keeping it up for good form after realizing that I had misread the clock and had minutes to spare. I was then a confused, spent doofus in the finish area, barely able to shake the RD’s hand, collect my loot, including a delicious cup of ice water, and make use of the most welcome item of the day: a wet washcloth.

GPS time 11:56:53, pace 15:31. Official time 11:55:31, 246 out of 295 official finishers, 322 starters.

mile / pace / elevation (ft)

41 / 19:17 / -21
42 / 20:29 / -14
43 / 15:50 / +98
44 / 15:11 / -81
45 / 12:59 / -4
46 / 14:15 / +149
47 / 15:24 / +7

BRR50_elev

elevation profile

This event was great fun. I don’t usually prefer out-and-back routes, but it was fantastic seeing the other runners coming back on the same path, many of whom offered a “good job” or other encouraging words. And with no pressure to PR, just to survive and hopefully get in by dark, it was never miserable, never like miles 18-20 of a road marathon. It was really very little like running two marathons. The first 26 miles, taking over six hours, was more like a walk in the woods with some running mixed in.

Recovery was, surprisingly, no worse than after a marathon. Spending all day at the event meant that I slept through the flushed, logy feeling I get for several hours after finishing a long race. My heart rate was back to a normal 65 the next morning. Sunday night I found a small blister on one foot, at the edge of the mostly-healed big blister from the ten-miler. My nose and lips were raw from blowing and wiping snot about a hundred times and, well, being a mouth-breather for twelve hours. By Monday I was climbing stairs again, but only out of spite.

A great day, and a great timeexperience!

DCFC9CD5-8CC6-4352-93E5-210B7B02F72C

Hyner View Trail Challenge 2013

HYNER, Pennsylvania, April 20 2013

Ambitious goal: 3:25:00
Fallback Goal: 4:00:00

“Virginia Happy Trails!” I heard a woman call from behind me. In a blatant display of hubris I was wearing the BRR 50 t-shirt (over top of another shirt – it was cold at the higher elevations, and both snow and sleet made appearances), and she recognized the club name on the back. She said she had run BRR a couple times, but skipped it this year to run Hyner. Her friend caught up both of us and the first woman told her “This guy just ran Bull Run!”

Friend: “Dude, you’re my hero.”
Me: “I’m not my hero…”

We were some 11 miles in, and had just climbed to the top of SOB, the steepest section of the course. I was feeling pretty drained. Maybe it was the lack of training, maybe it was having run a 50 mile race the week before. The two ladies dropped me pretty quickly.

After summitting SOB the rest of the course is pretty easy, if your legs are still cooperating. I really wasn’t feeling it, though. I’d come in thinking I might go sub-four hours, but at this point I was resigned to just trying to beat my previous best time here (4:31:xx).

Before too long we reached the final downhill section. I was still proceeding at a slothlike shuffle. It was a little rocky here, but not really too technical – just enough so you needed some mental alertness to keep your feet on the trail. In the first quarter mile or so I was passed by several people. They’d call out “on your left!” and I’d have to move aside – there was not really enough room to pass safely on this section of trail.

Before too long I got sick of yielding the trail. “Screw it, let’s see what the legs have left,” and I just leaned forward and let the hill take me. I wasn’t passed again until we reached the bridge at the bottom; in fact I even managed to move up a couple places.

After the bridge there was only about half a mile or less of trail before coming out on the road. I slowed somewhat here but stayed above a walk, reeling in a couple more runners on the way. When I came out to the road my watch showed about 3:52:00 – I had eight minutes to run the last mile. At first I didn’t really think I could pull it off, but along the way I kept meeting up with other runners and encouraging them: “You still have time to break four if you push!”, and soon enough it occurred to me that that applied to me as well. With about half a mile to go I started to kick, but I knew I had delayed too long. My watch showed a pace of about 7:30/mile, which would have been enough had I started to kick as soon as I hit the road.

The course veers back onto trail just before the end and there’s a final hill leading up to the finish line. I was already over four hours, but I realized I might have a chance to beat my friend Shawn’s time from 2010 – he and I had both run it that year, and he finished in 4:00:36. I had started to walk that last hill, but having a new goal put life in my legs, and I surged up it, passing three or four runners who’d passed me on the road just minutes ago. I dusted some dude at the finish line, and crossed in 4:00:33.15, 265th out of 960 finishers of the 25k.

Of course this means I’ll have to go back – failing by 34 seconds will not stand, man!

The Boss did fantastic this year, cutting almost an hour and a half off of her previous time and finishing in 5:49:41.

KJH_Hyner_2013The Boss laughs at your puny course

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Miles this race – 15.5
Miles raced in 2013 – 132

Bull Run Run 50 Miler 2013

CLIFTON, Virginia, April 13 2013

Fallback goal – Survive
Ambitious goal – Finish officially (under 13:00:00)
Dream goal – Finish ahead of the last official finisher

Friday evening I went to pick up my race packet at Hemlock. I hung around to wait for Steve, who would be staying with us Friday night. I figured I might as well check out the course condition while waiting – there had been pretty heavy rain earlier in the day.

I set off at an easy lope down to the river, where I turned right and headed along the last couple miles of the course. There was quite a bit of standing water, but nothing too boggy. And most of this water was gone by the time the actual race started.

As I was coming up the final hill to Hemlock I checked the time. It was about 7:24 PM, and I realized that this reconnaissance could very likely serve as a kind of “pre-enactment” of the actual race the next day. I knew that if I could finish at all it would be a mad, hobbling scramble to get in before the official time cutoff at 7:30. I had a vision of myself, 24 hours thence, in exactly the same place, except depleted and staggering and sore, trying to keep my failing legs moving another few tenths of a mile.

But on this day I had only run a couple miles. I power-hiked the rest of the hill and took off at a pretty good clip for the place where the finish line would soon be erected. I managed to cross that spot at 7:29 and some seconds. I’d need a much bigger cushion tomorrow to have any hope of an official finish.

Steve arrived and picked up his packet. We drove over to my house, watched The King of Masks on DVD, and headed to bed early.

First thing in the morning I went and got my checklist for the race. I’d never made a checklist before, and it made me feel powerful somehow – like a real runner instead of just a dilettante. I loaded up my hydration vest and drop bag with the things on my list, and I felt freakin’ invincible as The Boss drove us to the start line.

Waiting for the race to start I felt like just being a part of it was a dream accomplished. After my first ultramarathon, a 50K in Missouri last year, I briefly vowed I’d never run a race over marathon distance again. But even at the time I knew it was a lie. Ever since I learned of the BRR50‘s existence I knew I had to enter it.

We started. Steve and I ran together for four or five miles, then I turned to him and said “I’m going to see if I can move up a few places.” I was able to follow through on this, and I spent the next few minutes working my way out of the large pack we’d been running with and out into the open trail.

The next few hours were pure joy. The weather was perfect. I encountered several runners I’d never met, but whose names I’d come to know through my study of the local trail running scene. I met some pirates at the Wolf Run Shoals aid station. I was ahead of schedule coming into Fountainhead, and The Boss had not yet arrived. I left without waiting for her. The aid station at the entrance to the Do Loop had popsicles, and I left there feeling good. At this point I had run the first 30 miles of the course, as far as I’d ever run before.

I can identify the moment I knew I would finish this race. I was midway through the Do Loop, running strong and approaching the infamous Nash Rambler. Some wag had adorned it with balloons, a giant inflatable Hello Kitty, and a boombox that was shamelessly blaring a certain Springsteen tune on an infinite loop. It was clichéd and cheesy, but when I passed the scene in full stride just as The (other) Boss was growling “baby we were born to ruuuuuuun!” I couldn’t help but laugh with the pure joy of it. I knew then that I wouldn’t get to tell any epic tales of battling the time cutoffs; I was going to finish comfortably under the 13 hour limit.

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After the infamous Loop it was back to the aid station where I liberated another popsicle. I saw The Boss at Fountainhead, and she was a welcome sight. I begged some sunblock from the pirates at the Wolf Run Shoals aid station, and slathered it all over my head. When I handed it back to Alex P., he doubled over laughing and insisted on having me take a picture with the crew. How could I say no?

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I reached the aid station at The Marina about nine and a half hours into the race. Five miles to the finish, and three and a half hours to complete it. A finish at my first 50 miler was basically a done deal. The Boss was there, encouraging me. I could visualize every step of the way back to Hemlock. I was content not to push too hard; I was almost two hours ahead of schedule. My legs were finally feeling the strain, and I couldn’t run more than a couple hundred steps at a time, but I couldn’t keep a huge, goofy grin from spreading across my face.

I don’t think there’s a picture of me approaching the finish, but I probably looked much like some of the other runners (except older, fatter, and balder). Running up that last stretch of road to cross the line and shake the RD’s hand was one of the most sublime experiences of my life.

Final time: 11:07:18, 194th out of 295 official finishers.

I lived every minute of this day.

Miles this race – 50
Miles raced in 2013 – 116.53

Run for the Animals Half Marathon 2013

ONANCOCK, Virginia, April 7 2013

Ambitious goal – 1:40:00
Fallback goal – 1:45:00

If I lived closer I would do this race every year it’s held.

It was an intimate affair, only some hundred or so competitors spread over two races: a half marathon and a 10k. The race organization, however, was absolutely first rate. The course was very nice, starting and finishing in quaint Onancock, Virginia, with a scenic loop in the middle. There was no traffic control on the narrow, rural roads, which occasioned a little bit of a pucker factor when a blind curve was ahead or the sound of a motor behind. They did have cyclists patrolling the course, though, and they were very helpful with keeping motorists alert.

The course was flat, but it was windy. I’d been thinking I should be able to hold a 7:45 average pace on a course like this, but I was thwarted by a few factors:

–There was a lot of headwind.

–A moderately severe side stitch hobbled me for a couple minutes around the middle of the race. It was the first time I’ve ever had to walk during a road race shorter than a marathon.

–The roads were a little rough. On the one hand, this was part of the charm of the race, but running on the slight angle near the edges really exacerbated the knee pain that’s been plaguing me for the the past few months.

There were some 9 or 10 people ahead of me starting out, and when three of these turned around at the 5k point I knew they were in the shorter race. After that point I saw almost no other runners until the last couple miles. Near the five mile mark I looked back and saw a couple of guys in white shirts some fair distance behind me. When I had to stop and walk out the stitch I worried that they were gaining on me, but I didn’t look back until later.

Once you’ve walked once, the mental resistance to doing it again is considerably lowered. I kept thinking I’d walk for a while just up ahead, but I managed to squash that urge except for a few steps at each of the two remaining water stops. After the first of these around 6.5 miles in I looked back and saw that one of the white shirts had been dropped, but the other was startlingly close, spurring me back into a run.

This situation repeated itself at the water stop at 10 miles. After this there was a long, gradual downhill back into the village of Onancock. I’d almost reached the turn leading back to the wharf when I heard someone shout something unintelligible behind me. I looked back and it was a runner in a blue shirt – the white shirt guy had been dropped. Blue Shirt passed me a pretty good clip. My calves had been threatening mutiny for a couple miles, and when I briefly thought about trying to reverse the pass they went into full riot mode.

I had to back off the pace a little bit. The calves continued their tomfoolery, but I was able to keep them from seizing up completely. I passed a few 10k walkers with their dogs.

After the final turn I saw that the clock was at 1:43:xx. It would be close, but sub-1:45 was possible. The final hundred meters was a ridiculous limping, hobbling, flailing attempt at a sprint, but I sneaked in under the wire: 1:44:56. Eighth overall and 3rd (out of 4, but still) in my age group. Just barely made my fallback goal, but I did accomplish a long-time secondary goal – I finished ahead of the first female.

The post-race food was the best I’ve had at any race of any size, and the musical act was right fine. The weather was as near to perfect as I think it could be. I probably won’t want to travel that far every year, but I’d definitely like to go back some day.

Miles this race – 13.1
Miles raced in 2013 – 66.53

Not last!

Marine Corps 17.75k 2013

QUANTICO, Virginia, March 23 2013

Ambitious goal – 1:30:00
Fallback goal – Didn’t really have one

Not much to say about this race. It was the “golden ticket” race for this year’s Marine Corps Marathon – all finishers get guaranteed early entry. Given that the MCM sold out in under three hours last year, this was a pretty big perk. Of course, the 2,500 slots available in this race sold out in like 90 minutes, so it’s hard to say if this path to MCM registration was really any easier.

I was interested in the 17.75k for its own sake; I am not planning to run the MCM this year. I had a great time the previous time it was held, in the Fall of 2011. There were only some 600-odd entrants, and they had this diminutive female DI on the course just lighting us up: “You suck, you’re slow, move your butt!” We saw her near the beginning of the race and again at the end. I had almost given up on catching the string of three or four runners I’d been trying to reel in for the last mile or so, but then she was up in my face: “You suck, you can catch that guy, he’s slow, move, move, move!” I was like “…OK…”, and wound up dusting the entire string. The 2011 edition also featured an inspirational finish at the Museum of the Marine Corps.

This year was a let-down. No feisty female DIs; more paved roads and less trail; finish line just at some random place in Prince William Forest Park.

We arrived a little late and I got stuck in the back of the starting corral. The very first section of the course was in a shopping center parking lot and so was fairly wide. As soon as I crossed the starting mat I zigged left and started sprinting, trying to get around as many dawdlers as possible before the course narrowed after turning onto Dumfries road. I must have passed a few hundred people during that short sprint, and I didn’t have to do too much picking through slower runners. I was pretty much out in the open after half a mile or so.

I did have trouble recovering from that initial sprint, though. I was only 6 days removed from a PR effort at the Tobacco Road Marathon, and my legs were still a little tight. I had hoped to maybe stay a little under 8:00/mile, but most of the 11 mile splits were at least a little over that. The course was unremarkable – a few hills, mostly paved road, about a mile of gravel road, and the last half mile or so on double-track trail.

I wound up 200th out of 2,175 finishers, 1:29:42.

Miles this race – 11.03
Miles raced in 2013 – 53.43

Tobacco Road Marathon 2013

There is only salt. Bitter, sweet, sour – these are only fairy tales told to children. Umami – to the extent that I ever knew what it was – is a distant and fading memory. I exist in a world of salt; there can be nothing else.

***

I am already composing the excuse section of my race report: “I was on track to break four hours until calf cramps started hobbling me at around mile 20. I really could have done it this time, dangit.” I am approaching the water stop at mile 24. I have 2.2 miles to go, 3:37 or so on the clock. This can be done; this is achievable. Except for these cramps. You can run through a blister, you can run through knee pain and shredded quads, but a knotted-up calf will sideline you for sure. Then I remember – I have one salt tablet left. Will it hold off the cramps long enough for me to gut out these last couple miles? No time to think about it, no time to wait for it to dissolve. A quick check of the distance to the aid station and I chew viciously through the outer capsule and feel the contents instantly coat my tongue…

***

The volunteers don’t seem to mind that I grab a second cup of water. The first one is practically brine by the time it washes the residue from the S Cap down. The second one is sweet relief. A few twinges echo up from my calves, but then they quiet down. From here I only need ten minute miles to get in comfortably under four. My left knee is a screaming knot of fire; my quads are shot; my feet have been blistering for the past twelve miles. It’s twenty minutes of hell to the finish line, but as the signs say, the achievement is forever.

***

I’m on the way back from the second turnaround at about mile 18.5. I know a long, gradual uphill is coming because I enjoyed it as a downhill on the way out. I’m still taking a short break to walk at each mile marker, no more than 0.05 miles. I see the 4:00:00 pace leader coming the other way maybe five minutes after turning around, and I wonder when he’ll catch me.

I pass mile 20 at about 2:54, leaving me 1:06 to run a 10k. Easy, nothing to it. I walk a twentieth of a mile as I take my last gel and swallow a salt tab. But soon after I break back into a run my calves start threatening to cramp. You know the feeling – the muscle goes right up to the edge of turning over, you do a little hop-jump-step, and it backs off a little. You run a little slower but continue on, you and the cramp eyeing each other warily. I know that ten minute miles will get me home, but I don’t think I can pull it off. At least I’ll beat my 4:16 PR.

I hit the expected uphill, and find myself running with unexpected strength. I know the turn back onto the road is coming at around mile 23.7. I skip the walk break at mile 22, chat briefly with a young runner regarding our chances of finishing under four, drop him, resolve to make it to the road without stopping, skip the walk break at mile 23, make it to the road, walk a short distance, check my watch, start to feel cautiously hopeful about my chances of beating my long-time goal, pull up limping as my traitorous calves start to fold in on themselves…

***

There is no more stopping. A mile and a half to go, and some seventeen minutes to do it in. The body has the strength, if the mind has the will. I reach the last water stop, at the mile 25 marker. The volunteer is shouting “Just one more mile to go!”, and I can’t keep myself from correcting her: “You mean one point two!” She gives me some water anyway, and I am grateful. Fourteen minutes to go.

***

The girl I’ve been leapfrogging all day passes me for the last time when I take a brief break to walk at mile 16. An Indian guy has also stopped to walk a bit, and I complain to him about the girl’s stubborn insistence on not staying dropped. I mention that I’m always strong in the first half and fade in the second, and he allows that he has the same problem. I don’t think I’ll make four. I have some chance at a PR, but I’m OK with just finishing. The Indian guy keeps walking as I start up running again, trying to catch that girl before the 17 mile marker.

***

The legs are tired, but I know they will see me through. The “one mile to go” lady also said it was all downhill from there, but that was a lie too. Almost immediately I’m heading uphill again, but at this point it doesn’t matter. I almost bailed on this race because my knee has been hosed for the past two months. I decided to unbail and sacrifice the knee, and now I can make it all worthwhile by gutting out this last mile. Twelve minutes to go.

***

Just before the end of the first out-and-back there is a road crossing with a sign: “drop area”. If you are unable to continue you can drop here and get a ride to the finish. When I was trying to decide whether to unbail on this race I knew that I could at least quit at the end of the first out-and-back section and walk the last 2.5 miles back along the road. I had even planned how I’d be careful to give up my bib before crossing the finish line, so as not to accidentally record a finish time instead of my rightful DNF (surely there are protocols in place to avoid that, but still, I planned it). I just smirk at this drop area, however, and continue on. I am hurting, but not yet licked.

***

I don’t look at my watch. Just don’t stop and you’ll get it. I don’t try to guess how many tenths are left. I reach the end of the uphill section and open my stride a little bit as the road slopes down…

***

At around mile eight, just short of the first turnaround, I look down the front of my shirt to check that my anti-chafing band-aids are in place. One of them looks to be riding a little low so I try to adjust it, and of course it falls half off. A girl I briefly spoke with earlier suddenly bolts down a side trail into the woods. Is she taking a pee break? I can see the port-a-potties up ahead at the turn-around. Whatever. She’ll catch me at the turnaround and then we’ll spend the next several miles leapfrogging each other. At the end of the out-and-back there is a simple cardboard box with an arrow painted around it. A volunteer is admonishing all runners to “go all the way around the box.” I do so, then stop short of the water table. I shake some grit out of my shoe, replace the band-aid over my left [redacted], finally grab the water a volunteer has been trying to hand me, and start back running. I had thought with the extended stop this mile would be the first one where I failed to stay under a 9:09 pace (the average pace needed to break four hours), but remarkably when my watch beeps at me it reads 09:05. I continue on, encouraged.

***

Half a mile to go. Don’t trip over your goofy clown shoes. Amazingly, I pass a few straggling half-marathoners. There is no pain any more. I hear the first faint cheers coming from the finish area.

***

According to plan, I stop to walk as I take my first gel at mile 5. A guy runs past me, also taking a gel. He holds up his packet and companionably calls to me, “Mile Five!” I tuck the empty packet into my waist pack and catch up to the guy. He has a classic North Carolina accent, and it makes me nostalgic. He throws his empty gel packet on the trail while berating himself for doing so, apparently sincerely. I struggle briefly with the urge to gang up with him – equally sincerely – on himself, then master it. We chat for a while. He asks me my time goal and I tell him that I’d like to do four, except for my knee, and I’m just trying to finish. “You’re under four pace now,” he says, and I agree. He goes on, but I catch him just before the turnaround, where he informs me that he is intent on catching the 3:45:00 pace leader, who is in sight just up ahead.

***

A short gentle uphill leading to the turn back into the park. The cheers are louder now. I catch up with an Asian man at the turn, and I encourage him to push and make it in under four. He looks at me with either incomprehension or disdain. I don’t care, goodbye, I’m going on. The road turns down. I pass mile 26, five minutes left on the clock. The course is twisty here; I can’t see the arch.

***

We start. The marathoners and the half-marathoners start together, and it’s crowded. As always, there are walkers and slower runners inconsiderately starting up near the front of the race, and I have to pick through them for the first mile or two. The two races will split after about two and a half miles, and then I will have more breathing room. I had told myself that I would take it slow, don’t do anything stupid like try to break four hours, just take it slow, preserve the knee, and finish. My legs had other plans, though, and I find myself running in the low-to-mid eights. We turn right onto the trail and it is beautiful.

***

I still can’t see the arch. It can’t be more than a tenth of a mile to go. I round a turn, and then another. I see the clock. Is that 3:59:xx or 3:58:xx? It doesn’t matter, I’m safe on the chip time. I start to sprint it in (for low enough values of sprint). It turns out to have been 3:58; the clock reads 3:59:06 as I cross. I remember to stop my watch, as I almost never do, and I see that I had plenty of cushion – 3:57:04. Pretty sure I was sub-nine for the last mile. I accept my finisher’s medal from a young volunteer. It’s massive. It has the image of a train on it.

I take a water bottle and go off in search of pizza. I liberate a slice of cheese and find a quiet place to sit and eat it. I am overcome.

***

“Hey Boss?”
“Yes?”
“You know that North Carolina marathon coming up? The one I said I was bailing on?”
“Mm-hmm?”
“I’m thinking I might unbail on it…”