MCRRC: Seneca Greenway Trail Marathon. This is a point-to-point race with an option to do a 3.5 mile loop in the middle. Called a marathon and 50K, it is really about 34 miles for the 50K
and 30.3 miles (this year) for the marathon
. I knew I wasn't ready for the extra distance and set out to do the marathon.
In 2012 I put in some regular training for a few months and was in decent shape, somewhat ready to tackle the 50K option of this trail race. The weather that winter was warm and my job was not as busy so I trained well and I had a better base to begin with. That year, they started at the high point in Damascas Regional Park, MD and finished near Riley's Lock on the Potomac river. They ran the reverse this year (and last year), however this year, they started at Poole's General Store, Montevideo Rd., just off of River Rd. which shortened the course about 0.6 miles. My training last winter on paper looked good but I didn't feel I was ready enough for the event and I decided 2 weeks before the race to not do it. My training and starting base this winter is worse than either of those years but something drove me to run the race and be a weekend warrior anyway. Perhaps it was desperation as I've been getting slower and slower rather quickly. The idea to do it this year was brought-up by David Onkst as a way to get trained for the World ROGAINE Championships this summer, so that had helped motivate me too. Dave, fresh off of healing his shoulder from a fall at the end of 2013, decided not to run the marathon today.
The big factor this year was the snow, ice and mud. I'd seen one guy whom I later sat next to on the bus wipe out as he walked across a basketball court to the start. It had snowed about 7 inches 6 days before the event--that's a lot for around this locality; 2-3 inches of it remained. I didn't know what to wear, right down to my shoes. The morning temperatures were about 26 F when I caught the bus from Damascus to the start at 6:50am. It was 57 F when I finished. I thought to wear Ice Bugs with spikes because of the snow but was worried from how my feet felt 3 hours into the ultra-long event last weekend. My Solomons were so heavy in the mud when I last ran the Muddy Branch Trail. Ultimately I picked the Solomons. I didn't wear my nylon sweat top since the sun seemed strong at the start. I just had a long sleeve tech shirt tights with shorts underneath, and gloves. The one new item I tried and turned-out to be helpful was "waterproof" socks. The socks did work most of the way and probably saved me a lot of trouble--my toes were not numb like at so many orienteering events run in the snow earlier this winter. My Camelbak had about 25 ounces of Gatorade, a lot of Gu and other odds and ends.
I started very near the end of the pack because I needed a bathroom before going. This got me stuck behind people in the first 3 miles or so before things thinned-out. I would speed up off trail when the vegetation allowed, to get around groups, then settle-in to the group pace again. My first 10 minute miles were slower than I would have done with an open trail, but this was not necessarily a bad thing; I started too fast in 2012. The first 2.5 miles to Berryville Rd. were hilly and there was walking as the groups hit obstacles like tree trunks, streams and bridges. People were worried about falling. I was glad that things were frozen still from miles 2.5 to 6 (at Rte. 28). There was also less snow/ice. Some of the muddiest section of the trail are traditionally there. I ran a few 8 and 9 minute miles and was sweating a little. I kept moving up in position until the first aid station.
I drank and snacked but got out of the aid station fast, leaving behind a group that I'd just caught. The next 1.3 miles to Blackrock Rd. were hilly but I kept moving well. It was also all granular snow and ice. The event web site hadn't had much updating and it was clear that some items were from the race the previous year. I wasn't sure if the race course would follow the Greenway Trail to Riffleford Rd., or use the windy Seneca Ridge Trail which is 3.5 miles longer and also hillier. I kept moving to try to catch-up to people ahead of me so that I didn't take the wrong route. My hope for the shorter trail didn't pan-out but I endeavored on not too disappointed. The event is already longer than the traditional marathon definition and it's the culture of ultra-runners not to fret over stuff like that--you get to the end when you do. I climbed and caught several runners over the next few miles. These were at 10 minute/mile pace. The one thing I hadn't done was stop to eat or drink enough--though I could drink on the run with my Camelbak, I couldn't reach behind to take out a Gu or food without stopping and removing the pack. I thought there might be an aid station at Riffeford Rd. at about mile 13.5 but I started feeling some cramps in my quadriceps just above my knees around mile 12. I think the cramps were partly due to the different effort it took to push uphill and across the slippery ice and mud. The ice had started to melt noticeably 2 hours into the run, and cramps at mile 12 on a 30 mile run didn't make me feel confident about the day. To add to it, the aid station was not until several hills (which I walked a lot of) later at Lake Clopper; about mile 15. At mile 15, I took a longish break to eat and drink more. They generally don't supply cups at the event but rather than fill my pack and drink out of it, I grabbed a green one filled with what I thought was Gatorade--it was Mountain Dew and that was okay. I got a banana, some cookies, Gu, and Gatorade too. Finally I sat on the pavement and took off my tights. I happened to see Richard Pires whom I trained with for this race a little, 2 years back. The lead 50K runners also came through (3.5 miles ahead of me).
When I got going again I was slower but doing about 12 minute miles. I cramped some more so I would walk every now and then. The way to the next aid station at North Frederick Rd. (a.k.a., Rockville Pike Rte. 355), about mile 19 was generally flatter. A few people passed me but there weren't a lot of people around.
The next miles to Watkins Mill Rd., almost mile 22, were again hilly. It was getting significantly muddier too. I walked parts of almost all of the hills and lost a few positions. When I got to Watkins Mill Rd., a race official there told me I was in 43rd position. I think some of the people passing me were faster and younger 50K runners. There was no aid station at Watkins Mill Rd. but I needed a nature break. I climbed into the woods as several people passed by below.
I felt better, got over the next big ridge walking but passing some people. On the sunny flats to Brink Rd. at mile 23.3, it was outright muddy and slushy. However I felt better. I had a normal break at the aid station. I couldn't remember clearly just how far it was to the finish and thought I had about 11 to go. An aid station worker said it was 6 miles. That made me happy but soon after I started not to believe her. It turned-out to be 7 miles to the finish. I think I reflexively stopped my watch at the aid station. I didn't notice it was off until a while later but going from a previous GPS track it turns out that 1.014 miles that didn't get recorded.
The next aid station was not until mile 28.58, at Log House Rd. It seemed a long way there. I kept expecting the creek crossing to come up but all I kept seeing were more slush puddles and some rocks on the trail. I was going by memory and thinking it was 6 miles from the creek crossing to the finish but in reality it was about 4 miles from the creek crossing to the finish. I caught a few people, walked hills and sometimes the flatter ground when muscle cramps were coming on. I was doing about 13 minute miles mostly. I fell into a sort of pace with a younger woman who had popped out of some bushes a while back. She'd get ahead of me sometimes and then I'd get ahead of her. She indicated that she'd never done a long trail race before and wasn't sure how long the marathon would be. After informing her, she shared that she was ready to do another marathon the next day--this is all training for an 50 mile ultra that she is doing in April. I didn't want to think about that. I got ahead as we and another guy finally got to the creek crossing. My waterproof socks held-up pretty well but I did get a little dampness. The rope at the crossing was useless and the submerged stones were more slippery than worth standing on. I took a short break to eat a Gu and drink. The woman and guy got ahead then but I think I caught both later. Others passed by all of us quickly. As a sign of how bad I must have looked, when I saw the other runners going past, they looked slow. The trail started climbing more for the last few miles to the aid station at Log House Rd.
The workers at the aid station debated how far it was to the finish. A sign said 1.7 miles to the park and some thought that meant to the border. I already knew of a mile on a paved trail so I guessed it might be 3 more miles. Most thought it was about 2 and it turns out that it was 1.73 miles. The woman whom I had kept pace with got out first but I caught her quickly when she started walking. After some flatter ground, the trail dropped. I held off a guy who came from behind until I got to the paved trail. From there it was uphill a lot. The other guy slowly pulled away as we both alternated jogging and walking. People behind us including the woman I'd just passed, fell further behind. Once at the top of the hill, I kept moving even though my quads just above the knee were hurting. I strained on the uphill finish as people clapped. There was a fair amount of clapping at all of the aid stations.
I glanced at the clock a bit disappointed that it read 6:11 hours and some seconds. The race was chip timed so I was really somewhere under that (Because my watch was stopped part of the time, I didn't capture the whole run on it. The official time of 6:10:02 was based on chip time. I was 22nd place out of 81, and 4th of 22 in my division. 208 ran the 50K version of the race and I extrapolate that I'd have been in the middle of my age group on that). I'd hoped to be under 6 hours and thought I had a good chance of it during the first 2 hours of running, before I started cramping. The ice and mud had a lot to do with the slowness too (my estimate was 75% snow/ice, 21% mud, 4% pavement with some ice). In contrast, when I ran the 34 mile 50K in good weather 2 years ago, going downhill, I ran just under 5:48. The experienced guy on the bus this morning that I sat next to (the same guy I'd seen fall) told me of his failure on a previous ultra and when he told me he finished, I told him that he didn't fail, he just didn't meet his goal. He agreed and seemed to like that. I guess I didn't fail either. The day before, I'd been concerned about dropping out during the race and I didn't. As if a touché, as I walked back across snow covered grass to the van to drive home, I slipped and fell on the ice--I hadn't fallen the whole 30 miles to the finish though.