Monday, November 21, 2011

Week In Review: 13-19 November, and Stone Mill "50 Mile"/Philadelphia Marathon Race Report

Day by day:

13 November: 7 miles (50 minutes), Canton/Fells

14 November: 2 miles (20 minutes), Huntsville, AL

15 November: 2 miles (20 minutes), Huntsville, AL

16 November: 2 miles (15 minutes), back in Baltimore

17 November: 2 miles (15 minutes), Patterson-Park-style

18 November: 2 miles (15 minutes), again around Patterson Park

19 November: 55 miles (538 minutes), Stone Mill "50-Mile" race, 8th overall (I think)

Total Time: 673 minutes

Total Distance: 72 miles

*Yawn* Now, on to the good stuff . . .

In preparation for the "big dance" that is the Hellgate 100K on December 10th, my past few weeks have been focused on long, logistically complicated, mentally (if not physically) draining events. For a race that starts at midnight, and is a good 4-5 miles longer than 100K, there's a lot to be said about being mentally prepared.

This weekend's festivities kicked off at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, when I woke up, got dressed, and hopped in the freezing cold car for the hour-long drive to Watkins Mill High School, the start/finish of the Stone Mill "50-Mile" race. I got there a few minutes after 5 a.m., only to see a long line for the OUTSIDE packet pickup. I knew better than to assume that packet pickup would be inside the school, but I was sort of hoping that it would be. Just more cold weather training, I suppose. After 20 minutes in line, I had my bib, a cup of coffee, and about half an hour before the start of the race - enough time to sit in my relatively warm car, drink the coffee, eat a couple of Hammer gels, and make one last trip to the restroom.

Why does every Saturday morning look like this lately?

The race started promptly at 6 a.m., ready or not (and there were quite a few "nots" in there), with a loop around the high school before we hit the single-track Seneca Greenway/Muddy Branch trail that comprised the majority of the course. Thanks to the dark and my dimming headlamp (should have put new batteries in it - oh well), I chugged along conservatively for the first half-hour or so, until the sun came up. Some people passed me, but I wasn't worried, especially since this was more about putting in a solid effort than placing high. I concentrated on keeping my uncovered hands warm, the valve on my hydration pack from freezing (which it did fairly quickly), and generally not doing anything terribly stupid.

In maybe an effort to be more like the JFK 50, aka the greatest ultramarathon ever, which is probably worth a $1000 entry fee, and a bargain at the current $200 (considering that Stone Mill cost $35, there might be a hint of sarcasm in that statement), the organizers added some additional road sections to the course, one of which passed by the entrance to The Kentlands. That, of course, raised the moral question of whether or not this:

belongs in a trail race.

In any case, there were plenty of friendly, familiar faces at the aid stations, and because I was keeping the pace comfortable, the experience was generally pleasant, even on the long, straight, flat, bland towpath section of the course near the water. As we neared the 30-mile mark, I passed a few people, the temperature had become much more bearable, and aside from some lingering soreness/fatigue, I was feeling pretty positive about the next 3 or 4 hours of this. Over the past couple of weeks, I've developed a pretty good "grind" gear, which allows me to churn out 8-9 minute miles, almost regardless of the terrain or how terrible I might be feeling - an invaluable resource in the ever-present uncertainty in an ultramarathon . . .

Especially because gradually, things seemed to be a bit "off." Distances between aid stations seemed longer than claimed, considering my effort level, and while nothing catastrophic had happened, I began to suspect that perhaps the race was longer than the already-too-long advertised distance of 51.5 miles. This was confirmed when I reached the last aid station, and was told that I had to run an "out-and-back" that would cover the distance from Mile 42.5 to Mile 48.5. Half an hour later, when I hadn't reached the turn-around point, I realized that this section was clearly longer than I had been told. All because they wanted us to run this:

which was pictured on the front page of the website. (You would have felt so misled if you saw that on the website and then never got to run it during the race, right?)

In any event, it was a good thing that I saved a little bit, because with the "turn-around" section being over 8 miles, this put the race at close to 55 miles total, which is enough longer than the claimed distance that the last few miles could have been a bitter struggle. As it was, when I reached the final aid station, I was glad to be close to the finish, and ran strong all the way in, to finish in just under 9 hours (8:59:17, say the official results), feeling relatively okay.

Pushing up the last hill on principle; Keith Knipling was about a minute behind me. (Also, clearly, I dressed myself in the dark.)

In retrospect, considering that the winner finished in just over 8 hours, part of me wishes that this had been a race unto itself, rather than a training exercise, because, with a PR of a little under 7:30 on a "real" 50-mile course, over comparable terrain, a winning time seems within reach. But, water under the bridge now . . .

End Act I.

Sunset over Watkins Mill High School - the first day.

For my next trick, it was back home to shower and put together a clean set of running clothes, and then head up to Philadelphia for the marathon. I hadn't actually entered the race, but I was able to purchase a bib for $50 from one "Brandon," so that I could run the race at least somewhat legally:

Brandon, the apparent road-running rockstar, has a Philly Marathon bib.

And, because I owed her at least one for her heroic crew/pacer effort at the Grindstone 100, I would be running the race with my friend - her first marathon. She was looking to run around 4 hours, which was about what I could feel comfortable committing to the day after a 50+ mile race, so this would work out well for both of us.

The start was predictably chilly, but things warmed up as soon as we started running. Although my bib gave me the right to start near the front, in the "black" corral (they really ought to re-think the corral colors), I started in the "purple" (GO RAVENS) corral with my friend, and we spent the first hour of the race weaving through a sea of people. It gave me a new appreciation for what people in the middle and near the end of large races go through - there was very little room to pass until almost 10 miles in. The water stops were dangerously crowded, the ground was covered with cups and discarded gel packets (and, in some places, was so gel-covered that you could feel your shoes sticking to the ground, as if it were a low-rent movie theatre). And, worst of all, there were lines at the port-a-johns along the course, which became a real issue when my friend's stomach started affecting her pace. We went from cruising comfortably at sub-9-minute miles to walking parts of the race, particularly from Mile 20 on.

Including four restroom stops, and some walking, we finished in 4:23, in spite of having lost 25 minutes to the aforementioned obstacles. I felt relatively comfortable the whole time, and almost a little bad crossing the finish line as fresh as I was (especially since one person in the crowd actually recognized me and cheered for me by my real name, unlike the dozens of other spectators, including one particularly loud and frenzied fan near the finish, who were cheering wildly for "Brandon.") But that said, this effort was about helping my friend finish her first marathon, and from that standpoint, it was completely successful. Even setting that aside, the constant weaving and pace-shifting and eating on the go, all on less sleep than I would like, was all good Hellgate training.

In summary, over the span of 30 hours on the clock, I ran about 81 miles in about 800 minutes total, for about a 9:52/mile average pace, driving a little over 200 miles and consuming about 3500 calories in the process. (No wonder I'm hungry today.) I'm satisfied with this effort, and really looking forward to the next couple of weeks of biting off the mileage in more "normal" 5, 10 and 15-mile chunks at a time, each day, not to mention turkey trots, turkey day, and sleeping in on a couple of Saturdays. Mentally, the "down time" will be nice. But I don't intend to get too comfortable - as David Horton said in his last e-mail to Hellgate participants: "I hope your training is going well. It better."


  1. I just love how your training makes me feel so much more "normal" in comparison. (I mean this as a giant compliment!) The majority of my friends and family think I am insane. I have only to look to amazing ultra runners like you to know that I have quite a distance to go before I become certifiable!

    Wonderful job at both events. I managed a slightly slower pace at Stone Mill and only 2 miles the next day. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Thanks - I try to make a difference. And congrats on your Stone Mill finish. :)

    Also, in case it isn't already apparent, I don't worry about how "crazy" people might think I am based on any of this. I do it because it's a challenge and an experience and ultimately, it's fun. If it stops being any of that, I'll stop doing it. :)

  3. Wow. Just wow. I can't believe you ran a full the day after a 55 mile race.

    I ran JFK and it was indeed worth the 200 bucks :P

  4. WOW - I also ran Stone Mill, and could barely walk 2 miles the next day. I'm extremely impressed with both your finish time and a marathon the following day. I was also very upset with the magically growing distance, and I was forced to leave the school to do the out and back in complete darkness. Good for you for finishing in daylight!

  5. Kara, Alyssa,

    After enough of these silly long runs/races, a weekend like the one I just had turns out to be achievable without totally killing yourself. If you skim through my blog posts from earlier this year, you'll see what I mean . . . ;)

    And congrats to both of you for running at least 50 miles at a time (yes, Alyssa, they really should have been more careful with the distance - this isn't a David Horton production, like Hellgate, where part of the event is claiming that the race is shorter than it actually is, just to make things more difficult) . . . although Kara, I read your blog post, and I'm still not TOTALLY convinced (although it did look like a lot of fun) . . . wanna spot me $200 for next year? :P

  6. just stumbled on this. great job. i too did the stone mill 50 (55) miler. although i finished a few hours behind you :p I had a blast and look at the extra 5 miles as more miles for my buck. i did have a problem in that i ran the last 45 minutes in the dark woods cause i left my headlamp in my drop bag at mile 39, figured I'd be out of the woods before dark...not.
    I have also done JFK. Give me Stone Mill anyday. Way cheaper, less crowded and no mind-numbing 26 miles on that darn towpath.

  7. Rob,

    Congrats on your finish!

    And although I haven't done JFK yet, I think that Stone Mill (once it is the correct distance) is probably the better alternative for a first-timer (and probably even in general). The aid station volunteers were friendly, the course had a decent amount of variety, and definitely, not having a huge crowd helps, too. And of course, the price tag - it's nice to not have to spend a lot of money on a race that you're not even sure if you can finish.

    But that said, I'll make the "final" call on that once I get around to running JFK . . . ;)