26 February: Club Challenge 10-Mile Run, plus 2 miles warmup, 2 miles warmdown (14 miles, 95 minutes)
27 Feburary: 10-mile lunch run at APG, solo (70 minutes)
28 February: 15 miles (105 minutes) in Allen/Plano, Texas, including trespassing near transformers (the power-converting kind, and not the vehicle-morphing kind . . . that I could tell . . .)
29 February: 5 miles in the morning (35 minutes) in Allen/Plano, Texas, and another 10 miles (70 minutes) in the same darn place in the evening (so bored with strip mall running)
1 March: 15 miles in the evening in Baltimore (105 minutes), stubbornly refusing to wear a shirt in spite of the dropping temperature
2 March: 7 miles at lunch at APG (50 minutes), felt like death :(
3 March: Seneca Greenway 50K, 4 hours, 39 minutes, second place overall, 34-ish miles
Total minutes: 810
Total miles: 110
And now, the important part: The race report.
The Seneca Greenway 50K, along with the National Marathon and the Boston Marathon, have become rites of spring for me. And usually, this race turns out pretty well, even if it hurts like hell (which it usually does). So you can understand my trepidation when, the day before the race, I woke up with a very sick stomach, and bailed out of my intended 10-mile shakeout run at lunch at 7 miles because the stomach pain was no longer bearable. I considered not running this race.
But I also considered the people I would be letting down if I didn't give it the old college try, so I went the other way with this, and made plans with Meg Harnett (who was using the race as part of a 40-mile training run for her first 50-mile race, at my suggestion a few weeks ago) to drive her back from the race, and posted a Facebook status about doing the race, so now I REALLY couldn't back out.
Then I proceeded to have a friend over and "help" (in the loosest sense of the word) her bake vegan cakes for a party the next day, which mostly consisted of me eating chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream straight out of the tub, and occasionally making precision cuts on parchment paper while "Semi-Pro" played in the background. After lots of laughter about nothing, and other similarly whimsical activity, we eventually went to sleep around midnight, which, with a 5 a.m. wakeup time, was maybe pushing it.
But in retrospect, maybe not the worst decision, since I woke up in a good mood as a result of our general mirth-making. I picked up and put on clothes from my neat piles, and, after minimal foot-dragging, I was out the door at around 5:30 a.m., which was kind of a late start for a 6:45 bus from the finish line to the start, but I made it there exactly at 6:45, only to find that they had underestimated demand by one bus, and I would have to wait for one to come back.
So I had plenty of time to sit in my car and think about not running the race (especially since, at this point, it was cold and rainy). But they knew I was here, so I couldn't not do it. Eventually, after about half an hour, the bus showed up, and it was off to the start, which they were delaying for our "short-bus's" arrival.
This worked perfectly, as I got off the bus, handed in my entry form and fee, pinned my bib on, filled my water bottle, and scavenged a Hammer Gel from one of the tables for breakfast (fortunately, it was Montana Huckleberry, one of the better flavors). It had stopped raining, and, also in the category of pleasant surprises, it was not horribly cold, as it usually is at the start of this race.
Meg found me right away, and we walked over to the start together - apparently, her six miles before the race (to bring her to 40 for the day) went well. I saw Mosi just before the race started, and when I mentioned that I hadn't had breakfast, he gave me two Hammer Gels, which was really awesome of him. And then, with absolutely no fanfare whatsoever (a trademark of this race), we were off.
I went out pretty fast, and since I had been hanging out in the back before the start, talking to my friends, that meant that I had to pass a lot of people. Fortunately, the first half-mile or so is a wide paved path, which made passing easy. Normally, I don't go out that way, but after Club Challenge this past Sunday, I decided not to be "slow" in races, ever, whatever that means. (I think it means to be aggressive and push yourself, maybe.) Remarkably, I felt okay, in spite of how I had been feeling for the past 24 hours, and how little I had eaten.
Then, things got uneventful (albeit muddily uneventful - about 50 percent of the course was slick mud, and required constant care, so as to avoid face-planting). Up to the lake section (where "50K" runners split off and run a loop on the trail around Clopper Lake before returning to follow the "marathon" course), a few people were ahead of me, but only one person, a guy in a red jacket, had passed me. He didn't pass me too hard, and he was in sight most of the time. I couldn't quite catch him, lost contact, and then sort of forgot about him.
Adding to the non-descript confusion, because people who are running both the "marathon" and the "50K" are on the same course, it's hard to tell who's actually ahead of you, except when you get to the lake, which only the 50K runners run. During the lake loop, when I could see across the lake, I could see one person ahead of me, and one person who appeared to be not that far behind me.
I had gone out to race, and so at this point, I started drawing on the training I had been doing this past week, where, in just about every run, I had been throwing in random pick-ups, mostly to convince myself that I could always run faster, probably. (Incidentally, the lingering soreness from this might have contributed to my less-than-ideal physical state on Friday.) As I reached the end of the lake section, I saw the guy who I had seen ahead of me walking - apparently, he had burned himself out. I didn't see the guy behind me anymore, so I must have dropped him.
I continued my "aid station roulette" routine (having no nutrition plan in particular coming in, other than my water bottle and some Endurolytes, I tried to take in about 200 calories at each aid station, mostly in bananas, orange slices, and Nutter Butter cookies, washed down with Coke, Mountain Dew, or Gatorade), and headed down the trail for what is typically the "worst" section of the race. That is, if you're feeling bad as you leave the lake loop (the end of the loop is around the 20-mile mark), this section will make it worse, because the trail descends quite a bit for about half a mile, then immediately climbs just as much in as much distance. I was still feeling strong and pushing, and now I was passing people, but, at this point, there was no telling which race they were in.
Still, passing people is passing people, and since I had no watch to mark progress, this kept me mentally occupied for the remainder of the race. And the remainder of the race was similarly uneventful - I just kept pushing and staying in the moment as much as possible. Before I knew it, I was at the last aid station, and Jon was there, as photographer, and got really excited when he saw me. "What are you doing? You're killing it!" he shouted as he took dozens of photos of me. I would have loved to stay and chat, but I had the nasty little business of the last 3-ish miles of the race, beginning with a creek crossing and a steep climb.
Eyeing up that last hill, while Jon gets trigger-happy on the camera.
It was somewhere on the steep climb, when I could feel everything just clicking, and all the hard work from the past months coming together, that I suddenly felt all of the emotional distress and weight of the past couple of weeks just flood out of me. Yes, that sounds kind of stupid, but pushing my body over that terrain in the way that I was pushing it was perfectly cathartic.
And I wish I could say that I ended the race that way, but as I hit the pavement for the last mile or so, a man walking by said to me "number 5," and that took the wind right out of my sails. It seems as though 5th is my permanent 50K finishing place, and it seemed like for all of the focus and effort I had put into this race today, in spite of the circumstances coming in, 5th wasn't right.
That didn't slow me down, though - I pushed all the way through the appropriately unceremonious finish line, to learn that I was the second 50K finisher - the guy on the road had been counting total runners. The guy in the red jacket had apparently finished just a couple of minutes ahead of me, and was standing behind the finish line picking at the food on the table.
I was happy beyond happy at this point, even though my finishing time was slower than last year's (4 hours, 39 minutes this year, compared to 4 hours, 19 minutes last year). Considering that the course was about three miles longer this year, and the mud had made parts of it less than runnable, I consider this year's effort far stronger.
I went over to red jacket guy to congratulate him on his race. We talked for a bit, and then I realized I hadn't asked him his name, so I did, and he answered "Glen Redpath." Oops. I was immedately really apologetic about it, but he said not to worry, he tends to fly under the radar.
Glen started walking back down the road towards the picnic, and I ran after him (surprisingly, this didn't hurt a bit). We chatted some more, and he made a comment about how not wearing a shirt was a good way to get hypothermia (although I was really enjoying the feel of the sun on my back, and, more importantly, not freezing to death, as I usually am at the end of this race). Then I mentioned that I was waiting for my friend Meg to come in, since I had her change of clothes in the trunk of my car. I said that I would probably hang out with him a bit at the picnic, then go back out to my car and get her clothes . . .
And just as I was saying that, who comes down the road, looking not at all like she's nearing 40 total miles for the day? (Meg, obviously.) So with my water bottle, hat, and shirt in hand, I excused myself, turned around, and ran in with her to the finish, telling her that she was second woman in the 50K, which she apparently already knew, since people were telling her for most of the race that she wasn't far behind the first woman. She even managed a little sprint when the finish line came into sight, which I gladly went along with - a little "second-place finishers" sprint. 4 hours, 58 minutes, AFTER a six-mile "warmup," in a "training run" - as I've said in other media, totally baller.
Then Meg and I hung out at the finish line and waited for the rest of our crew to finish: Mike, in a little over 5 hours, Mosi, mid-5, and Jackie, who may be the only runner in the history of this race to state on the entry form that she would be running the "marathon," then elect to do the "50K" at the split-off (which is why she was "late" to the party). Some rough days, but this course, although fast if run right, tends to wear on you with its relentless ups and downs, and the extra distance and the mud this year added to that effect. (And, for what it's worth, Jackie's perfectly-painted "eye black" stripes made out of mud were totally winning, regardless of anything else.)
We all hung out at the picnic for probably too long afterwards, congratulating other finishers as they came in, and talking and laughing about nothing in particular. Eventually, it was time for me to drive Meg back to her car at the start, and then back home for whatever it is that I do at home (mostly cat-care and write race reports, apparently).
All in all, an awesome day in lots of ways. Not just my performance, but also the way I felt like my friends helped me to do what I did - after all, if I hadn't felt like I was out there for somebody other than myself, I might not have run the race.
And in particular, a special thanks to Meg D, whose performance at the Club Challenge 10-Mile Run last week (1:02 high, a PR for her by over 2 minutes, on a difficult 10-mile course), which I had the opportunity to watch from behind for most of the race, inspired my race. Watching her RACE that hard gave me a new perspective on my running - lately, as I've mentioned in recent posts here, I've felt like I've been "running" more than "racing" in races. Seeing the way she ran helped me to carry her brand of calculated, yet gutsy and fearless, running into my training this past week, and into this race, and if I hadn't run the race that way, it was unlikely that I would have finished as well as I did.
So, once again, I am thankful for all of the great people (race volunteers and staff definitely included) that made this experience possible. Here's to another week of awesome!
A few of the people who dragged me through this, post-race. (Not pictured: Meg Harnett, who, at the risk of TMI, was off TCB in the woods. :P)