MCRRC: Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon & 50k: As I wokeup at 4:45am to get ready for the race, I felt more confident that the on-going rain would blow over just before the 8am start. The race is point to point so it was still raining as I was getting shuttled by the race director (I was an early arrival and other caught buses). I was a bit chilly sitting around for an hour in an open shelter. I at least had my sweats on. Others had shown-up ready to run in shorts and t-shirts. I waited with Jon Pifer and Rich Prior--both had done some of the earlier organized training runs. It was about 45 F a half hour before the start but expected to get over 60 F later. My primary goal for the day was to finish, while running as much of the way as possible. I hadn't settled on what shoes to wear. Originally, I was going to use the Solomon trail shoes that I'd trained in. However with the conditions being slick and squishy in many places on the trail, I finally decided to use my Ice Bug orienteering shoes. Several people wondered what I was wearing--they are so minimalist compared to what a lot of others were wearing, and the Ice Bugs had stubby spikes. I reasoned the light weight and the spikes would help a lot over the distance. I also decided to just wear a long sleeve t-shirt and shorts, with no gloves--this much turned-out to be just right. My shoes seemed to fit-in with the theme somewhat; at least as far as being minimalist. Only 2 portable toilets at the start ensured long lines for the whole time. Seeing that, I risked not waiting. I packed what I wasn't going to run with for transportation to the finish, and went to the start as the last bus arrived a bit late. There were few words given as instruction, and much to my surprise and most of the 200-300 people's, Ed Shultz, race organizer for the last ~10 years, suddenly indicated we should leave, seemingly without actually saying "go".
I was at the front of the starting line but right behind me, a road closed gate blocked 85% of the crowd. Once off, I felt good enough. I'd had a rest week and was wearing light shoes. Jon and Rich started more slowly. I clacked on the paved road and watched faster runners take off. A woman ran off ahead--I'd heard an elite 100 miler was racing. I was moving along too though--I was trying not to go out too fast. I'd been warned enough about that. I figured I'd let myself take advantage of the ease with which I could cover some ground while not yet tired. It seemed that if I went slow right from the start, that I'd be out longer and would slow just as much. My first mile was 7:23 though I'd dropped about 35m. I should of started slowing not far ahead as I'd dropped 50m from the start 2 miles out and started running along the creek. However, it was hard to do with a crowd of people on the single track in front of and behind me. I still wasn't feeling tired too. I was watching the trail a lot too. I'd already seen one guy twist an ankle, another go down, and heard a loud shout somewhere behind me within 3 miles out. Rather than worry about my pace, my worry had also been about getting across the one major creek crossing with all the rains. These worries were alleviated with seeing the water level as I approached. At 4.3 miles when I got to it, I stayed to the left of the rope where the volunteers said it was more shallow and was across quickly. The second place woman passed me right after that. 6 miles out or so, I did start feeling like I wasn't feeling as good as I should at this point. I slowed more and others passed me. However, I didn't start feeling much better. I took a good break at the Rockville Pike (Rte. 355) aid station (11.1 miles 1:34:35). I stuffed banana pieces in my mouth, drank and stowed away some Gatorade.
After Rte. 355, there were half mile markers. My splits at these (4:30) were 30 seconds faster than the much shorter training run I'd done with Rich Prior on January 18th. Also in this area, the first of 20 or so signs along the course about Pringles chips started appearing. Some were in homage to this being Ed Shultz's last time directing the race; I assume that someone had knowledge of them being the ultra-racer's favorite. Later, the signs were ripping on the chips themselves such as how they were only 40% potatoes, and in many other ways a poor health choice. One such sign even poked fun at them by expressing awe at the hyperbolic paraboloid shape. Making my way into the Clopper Lake park area and making the climb up to lake, I slowed more but stayed in contact with some apparently 30-something guys. My slowing down initially manifested from tightening calves--a muscle area which had kept me from running much the last several years after recovering from meniscus surgery. The tightening calves might have resulted from running too fast initially, or from my Ice Bug shoes having a lower heel and less support than my trail training shoes. At the aid station, I didn't find any bananas but stuffed 1/3 of a PBJ sandwich into my mouth. I drank more Gatorade, and packed away more for the trail. I was slower in the transition than others, and quite comfortable with the extra time it took me. However it was dismaying to see that all of the guys I'd been running with were peeling off for the marathon. Despite not feeling so great after the first 14.6 miles (2:09:20), I was still set on doing the 50k route. From earlier calculations and GPS track splicing/joining, I fully expected the "50k" route to be between 34 and 35 miles.
As I took off to loop the lake, the lead 50K runner was just coming off of it--3.5 miles ahead of me (~2:10:50): I plodded up the initial hill with the PBJ stuck to my inner cheeks like a squirrel. I slowly got it down my throat. For a while, it was nice to finally be running alone and at my own pace. I moved steadily but my right thigh on the right side started hurting. It was like the pain I was feeling 2 weeks before after 20 miles. I guessed that it had to do with my calves tightening-up and having put more load on the thigh to run. It could also have been the constant running on the side of the trail or hills because it was to muddy on the trail. Some others closed-in on me but I also passed a few after rounding the east end of the lake. When I went by, one of these who was walking said I'd made the right choice to run in shorts. I ran through the pain in my thigh (right side of quadriceps?) but was happy to get back to the aid stop where people were still coming and going (2:42:45, 18.04 miles).
After the aid stop, were the last set of half mile markers for a while. I was back to a 4:31 split. It got a bit hillier before reaching Riffle Ford Rd. Jim from the MCRRC Saturday morning Panera Bread group was manning the aid station there. I didn't stop since it was only a little bit since I'd left the lake aid station. I knew the next 6 mile stretch would be mentally tough with more hills and lots of switchbacks. I settled into a steady but labored pace. I offered to let 2 guys behind me go by but they were comfortable to stay in my wake. I kept moving though I did walk a few short stretches of steeper uphills. The nice looking woods helped keep me going but also, I sensed being able to finish. Prior to reaching the Rte. 118 crossing (just under 24 miles, (3:44:43), I'd signaled to the other 2 guys still with me that I'd be stopping to stretch. Stephanie Bates, one more of the MCRRC Saturday morning Panera Bread crowd, was manning the crossing. I'd arranged with her to get a banana but wasn't sure if she'd have it--to my pleasure, she did and I quickly ate all of it while stretching. Once stretched, I was more energized. I moved well and started to drop the other guys behind me. However, there were some of the steeper hills ahead and we all walked these. I had hoped there would be an aid station at Black Rock Mill (26.0 miles, 4:07:58) since the Rte. 118 crossing was not an official aid stop and it'd been a long way since Riffle Ford Rd. I found out otherwise and slowed. The two guys I'd been leading for 6.25 miles moved ahead. There was a bit of a climb a lot of the next 1.4 miles to the Rte. 28 aid station (4:23:45, ~27.25 miles according to my GPS but this may be short). I drank and ate more PBJ sandwich parts. There were no bananas.
The next stretch was where I'd done my first training run for this race, back in early January. It was straighter and flatter than parts I'd just passed. I knew I'd get through it. I also knew it'd be muddier than earlier parts of the trail. Half mile markers re-appeared. The first 2, I was 5:11 and 5:12; slow but not bad for the distance and my limited training. However, cramps were becoming more troublesome in my calves and hamstring. I felt that this was where the racing was starting. I had to walk over obstacles that I could run over most any other day. On the muddiest stretch of trail, I just plodded right through. At one point, I needed to pee so when I found myself alone, I pulled over. I was starting to feel my missing the toilet at the start too. With my pace slowing to +6:00 minutes per half mile, several younger women went past (not together), moving well. My quadriceps were worn out (my right one was still hurting but now it was masked amongst other pains) so I just couldn't get my stride right. It got shorter. I finally made it to the Berryville Rd. aid station (5:18:11, 31.4 miles). I didn't linger. All along the last stetch, I'd expected Jon Pifer or Rich Prior to come floating past.
I knew the last 2.5 miles to be the least pleasant of the course. It started with a not so bad creek crossing but then went up a steep stairwayed hill. My legs were again cramping getting up that. Two guys went past at the top. It was a bit hilly for a while but flattened just before reaching the paved road Seneca Rd. The studs on my shoes hurt. Even my left wrist was hurting--it had been hurting for about 15 miles, seemingly from the weight of my GPS watch--that never bothered me that way before. The last stretch on Tschiffely Mill Rd. I was moving better but still struggling. I didn't know if the finish would be at the last mile marker or at Riley's Lock another quarter mile past that. It turned out to be about 25m before the last mile marker. I saw Don from the Panera Bread breakfast group recording finish times; the clock was showing about 3 minutes extra. Of course, it felt good to be done. I drank water but wasn't very hungry.
Jon Pifer showed-up around 6 or 7 minutes later. We looked for the picnic by walking painfully half a mile to the Caleva parking area past Riley's Lock (the National Park Service would not even let the race have a picnic near the lock; state and county parks were great to the race organizers and racers). It turned out that the picnic was off Tschiffely Mill Rd. and we'd have to walk back to the start, then go another +quarter mile past that. We saw Rich Prior when doing this--he must have finished behind Jon, had eaten, and was already headed home. The food was okay but I wasn't that hungry. I chatted with one of our deaf orienteering friends, Jon and Monika Bachmann. Monika had done the marathon
, ~29 miles and finished 6-7 minutes behind Jon. To get home, I walked again with Jon to the Caleva parking area--that made it about 1.5 miles of walking after the race. Going home driving 15 miles, it seemed really far and to take a long while.
I was pleased with having finished under 6 hours and having gutted out the end running as much as I could with the cramping. It felt like an accomplishment after so many years of injuries getting in the way. I don't know if I'll keep up the training I've been doing but it's over 3 times as much as I was doing last year. The longer I do it without getting injured, the better I should be able to run as I believe there is a cumulative effect. I ran as well as could be expected today off of only 2 months of semi-serious training--muscles don't grow so fast at my age.