Monday, November 22, 2010

The Stone Mill 50 Mile Race Report - Part 1

Charles Dickens wrote; “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times”.

The buzzer sounded at 4:30 am. That alarm meant it was time for the familiar long run routine; dress, oatmeal, coffee, and out the door. And on this morning off to the races. 

We needed to be on location for a 6 am start. Orion’s Belt was clearly visible as we pulled out from the driveway and the frost on the windshield told me it was going to be a good day, a cold morning, but a perfect day for a long run.

We arrived at Damascus Park (in Northern Montgomery County) to a friendly crew of flashlight brandishing volunteers who welcomed us and showed us to the parking lot. What time did they get up, I wondered? Following the lantern light I made my way to the pavilion to receive my race number and prepared to meet the others for the start. Everyone seemed serious and focused for the challenge ahead. The $30 fee, and a commemorative coffee mug belied the adventure the day was to hold.

As we descended the long paved road to the trailhead we looked like little “tinker bells”, headlamps and flashlights bouncing along in the pitch-black one after the other down the trail. After the first 4 miles some of the front-runners diverted (not on purpose) to the right in the darkness. The trail went to the left. We stopped, looked around and I said, “ I think we are going the wrong way”. At that moment we saw the rest of the early group go past us on the left. Then someone quoted “and the first shall be last”. We were. As we jumped back onto the trail we filed in behind the other headlamps and said, “Follow them”.

I was 5 miles into the race as the early morning sun started to peek over the horizon. In the running community we have an expression called the “Rave Run”. As the sun came up in the east over Seneca Creek we each looked up to see the rose colored sky light up the frost-covered landscape and from behind I heard,  “Rave Run, Woo Hooo”. We all knew this was a special moment, one that few others would be able to experience like this!  

Over hills, through valleys, down these narrow leaf-covered trails, jumping over roots and rocks, with only the illumination of our headlamps we came to our first steam crossing. With a single ¼ inch cord fastened to stakes next to us, we attempted to cross using the slippery rocks protruding out of the water. Our shoes slipped in ever so slightly with each attempt, just enough to get our feet wet in the freezing waters. Are we having fun yet? No one complained. The trail runner’s spirit!

By 7: 20 we hit our third road crossing and our 1st food & aid station. We had stared too early, run too fast & the volunteers weren't ready for us yet. We quickly scanned for something to eat or drink but needed to keep going. We had an entire day ahead of us and we were just getting started. We filled our empty water bottles and kept moving.

My wife Mary and her girl friend Sheilagh met me at the second aid station, which was at the 10-mile mark. They filled my water bottle, got me a fresh pair of shoes, socks, & some nourishment. By this time the group had spread out a bit and I was on my own with no other runners in sight.

The next four miles were extremely hilly on the way to the next aid station in Seneca Park. There Mary and another friend Don joined me for a few miles (for conversation and encouragement) on the trail. The food at this aid station was plentiful but the simple cheese sandwiches were terrific!

Between miles 15 and 25 I was pretty much on my own. The sun was beginning to get higher, temperatures were rising and I began to sweat profusely (which the usual for me when it’s hot). By now all the elite runners who had started an hour later, were passing me. I just tried to stay focused on the running basics and not get discouraged. I knew I needed to keep hydrating in order to run a smart race and not quit because of dehydration.

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