Friday, November 21, 2008

The Feronia Frolic (11/08/08)

This is what trail running is about, for me.

Our TrailDawg pals Phat Phil and Paulus Treemarkus (aka Phil Nissen and Pawl Melzer) put on a first class fat-ass event at Fair Hill State Park over in MD. I rolled out of bed listening to the rain tapping on the siding, made a pot of coffee, read the paper, and realized -- just in time -- holy hell, the race starts in 30 minutes! So, a 15 minute drive to Fair Hill and I arrive at the start in my slippers -- and, with a quick change, I am ready to run!

What a nice day for a run. Sure, it was drizzly, but who cares? The temperatures were really pleasant (60-ish). The fall colors were fantastic, brilliant in places, with shimmering golden leaves laying next to some of the maples looking like a shadow of sunlight. And, Phil and Pawl had picked out for us a primo assortment of trails.

There was a decent crowd, maybe 40? It included most of the Dawg regulars, some of the Newark area fast guys, and s good number of RASAC folks from the other side of the Susquehanna. I ran a lot of the race with some really nice people, which made it especially fun - Curt, who works down the hall from me -- Laurie and Chris (and Laurie's dawg), down from PA -- and RASAC folks Steve, Steve, and Cath from over in Harford County. There were plenty of route-finding adventures, as it appears mischievous hikers, bikers, or hooligans removed some of the key trail marks for turns. Phil and Pawl threw in a section were clues were needed to find the way, as well as ample shiggy running and a couple of log-crossings over creeks and ravines. We ended up with almost 19 miles and four hours worth of cardio by the time we finished!

Best of all, socializing with fellow Dawgs and chowing down on the excellent Roman bread and lentil and barley stew at the finish.

Thanks a lot you guys for a great day!

Running with my kid: The C&D Canal 10K (11/02/08)

I've had the pleasure recently of running more and more with daughter Megan (23), and sometimes also her boyfriend BJ. A great father-daughter bonding experience.

The kid has been through a couple of knee surgeries in the last year or so, the first for an ACL and meniscus repair, and the second as meniscus touch-up just this past summer. Well, getting back in shape, she set the admirable goal to run a 10K. At the end of the summer and during the fall, she steadily worked up her mileage. And, on a nice cool fall day, we did her first 10K together -- the C&D Canal 10K, part of the C&D Canal Running Festival put on by Piranha Sports.

Maybe I wasn't the best person to do a first race with -- I almost got her there late! Well, not late for her -- she was pre-registered -- but I was purty dern close to the last one to be allowed to register onsite. My buddy Greg, poor guy, was even later -- he called me from the starting line minutes before I arrived, wondering if he had the day right because there was nobody there. Turns out, he went to the starting line of last year's race in Delaware City! I tried to be as nice as I could to the folks handling registration -- the event staff looked thinner than last year and late registrants were giving them headaches as they were needing to get other things ready for the race.

Anyhow, with registration taken care of, Megan and I chatted with Greg, fellow Trail Dawg Angus, and a guy who works in our department, Curt. Megan didn't seem to be too nervous. The race starts were staggered. Marathon first -- Angus was out of the gate pretty quickly. Half-marathon next -- we got to cheer Greg and Curt as they took off.. Then our 10K, and I assume we were followed soon after by the 5K.

We went out with a steady pace, about 10 minute miles, occasionally having to slow down after the adrenaline of the start. Megan's goal was to average about 10 minute miles and to break an hour if possible. The course heads from the St. George's general store to the old St. George's Bridge, to the canal, then eastward along the gravel road next to the canal. After about 2 miles, with a bit of a headwind, I could tell by Megan's breathing that the challenge would be in maintaining our more or less 10 minute pace. Before the turnaround, we backed off slightly and let a 60-ish guy we ran some with get ahead. From the halfway point turnaround, I tried to psyche her up, pointing out the benefit of the tailwind. But, as you'd expect for a first 10K, it got harder and harder. By the time we hit 4 miles, I knew she was at a place that Greg said she'd need to be ready for -- I love this -- "that magical place of misery somewhere between the adreneline wearing off and too far from the finish to be excited." I don't know if any further proof was needed about how unfit I am to be a parent, but I began trying to talk her into "embracing the pain, embracing the fatigue," and telling her that "suffering is good." Trying to bring out more motivation, as we hit the 5 mile point, I tried to point out to her that she was going to soon feel great -- because she could stop!

As we rounded the second-to-last turn, we hit pavement and Megan began to pick it up. As the last turn got in sight, only yards from the finish, she really picked it up, getting out ahead of me with a spring like she was chasing a ball in a soccer game. I hustled to try to catch her and we crossed the finish line in close succession, Megan at 1:04:18 and me at 1:04:19 -- just about a 10 minute mile pace!

It's a real pleasure to be able to share something like this with your kid. I was proud of her for her effort in training and running the race, and even prouder of her for forgiving me for being a task-master in the last couple of miles.

Post-script/race review: I appreciate the race organizers' efforts, and really like supporting great local races like this one -- but I think the race slipped a notch since last year (where I did the half). Pluses: pleasant running along the canal (except maybe when the headwind was bad); really nice volunteers, friendly and hard-working; pretty cool concept to offer races from 5K to marathon distance the same morning; a very generous number of awards, including three for each 5 year age group; and the race set up is really easy to get to. Minuses: poor course control causing wrong/missed turns and bad mileage postings in places; not enough cups for the runners (they were out of cups so unable to give drinks by the time we hit about 4 miles on the 10K); not the same party atmosphere in the little town of St Georges as you can have by the ferry landing in Delaware City, no loud music or loudspeaker announcing finishers like they did before.

Kudos: Speed Dawg Angus Repper won the marathon for the second year in a row. He finished in 2:54 and change and looked great as he crossed the finish line. Fellow Dawg Mark Holliday broke 4 hours in the marathon for the first time with a great run. Greg Forgang and Mary Holliday had what I believe to be male and female course records in the 12K or 13K or 14K or 15K race. This was a special event at this year's C&D Run Fest made possible by poor course control causing them (and maybe 1/5 of the 10K field) to miss a turn and run extra miles -- and in their cases cheating them of high podium finishes.

Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 Miler (8/22-23/08)

"Cheat" was a fun, end-of-summer roadtrip for our trail Dawg contingent. The concept: drive out to West Virginia on Friday afternoon, have a nice group dinner, pick up our registration materials, and -- starting at 9 pm -- run around in the dark, climbing up onto and around a big West Virginia mountain, via trails and dirt roads, for 50 miles. The ladies: Margie, Laurie, and Brigitte (doing her first 50 miler). The guys: Angus, "Reading Dave," Greg (doing his first 50 miler, too), Hunt, Phat Phil, and Gerard. Also there were Baltimore Dawg Alberto, and Laurie's Lehigh Valley running pal Bud.

This was a first-time event organized by the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners. The race organizers had a 4-H camp arranged as the headquarters -- very convenient. After registration, and some time to chill out on the lawn, we gathered just before 9 pm for the national anthem (sung, I think, by the RD's wife, assisted by the crowd), and we were off into the night!

The beginning of the course follows roads, first paved, then dirt, climbing up onto the mountain, about 1700 ft up in the first 9 miles. It seemed to me that the crowd was going out pretty fast, so I opted to plod along at an enjoyable pace, running with fellow Dawg Phil Nissen. The roads leveled out a little after nine miles, so we were able to jog along and have a nice conversation.

After about 13 miles, the race course turns off onto some trail. At this point, we were up on a plateau, with the big climbs out of the way. But, this was not just trail. It was serious trail -- rocky, boggy, overgown, mossy, misty, hard-to-follow, and -- did I mention -- rocky? Incredibly beautiful -- at least within the narrow, 4-foot swath of our headlamp beams -- but incredibly challenging, requiring real concentration. I think our conversation slowed down a little there. When we entered the woods, there was a lone runner in front of us. We stayed behind him for a while, then caught him and chatted a bit -- as the trail became harder and harder. We figured he might want to stay with us, rather than run this tough stuff alone in the dark, but he showed no real sign of interest, so we moved on.

From what I have read, Cheat Mountain is one of those high Allegheny plateaus that occur in a few places in West Virginia that has a winter climate somewhat like northern New York or even eastern Canada. A good size river, Shavers Fork, runs along the top of the plateau, something like 2500 feet higher than the next river to the west, in the valley where we started the race. The climate and geology are apparently what gives Cheat Mountain its unique look. We were up and down small, steep, roller-coaster hills. The trails alternated between rocky and boggy, with a lot of mucky poorly drained areas. The vegetation was awesome, with the trails so overgrain by small bushy red spruce trees that it was hard to see the way ahead -- and the trail footing so overgrown with ferns that it was ofeten nearly impossible to see if you were going to step on a rock or in mud. This would be a challenge in the daylight -- at night, it was a true adventure!

Anyhow, Phil and I made our way along the Yokum, Turkey, and Crouch Trails -- and, after a short stretch downhill on an old road, were at the first backwoods aid station along Shaver's Run (Aid #3, 17.7 miles). The people there were really nice. Phil and I knew we were running a bit slow, especially with the tough trails -- and that there was a very aggressive cutoff time at the next aid station, the 23.2 milepoint by the 6 hour mark. We told our worries to the RD's buddy running the station, who assured us that we shouldn't sweat it, that they'd likely be flexible on cut-off at the checkpoint if we were close (as you might expect, this being being a first-time event, and all, so time actually required not yet firmly established).

So, off we went, downstream along Shavers Run for a bit, then up, up, up across the rocky Whitmeadow Trail. Amongst the running, there was a lot of walking here. Where the trail conditions permitted, we tried to get as good a pace going to make up a bit of time -- with the cut-off lurking ahead of us. A couple of miles before Aid #4, it dawned on us that we might not make it by cut-off time. Phil told me that I should feel free to go ahead and try to make it, if I thought I could, so I was off. The trail got better, little by little, and I got into a thythm, running faster, little by little. By the time I hit the last stretch of rad to the AS, I was flying (for me), running I'm sure at my 800 m repeat pace at Tuesday track workouts (8 min miles). As I rolled into the aid station, I knew I was just over the cut-off time, but figured I was close and running strong so would be safe. Six hours, three minutes. Three minutes, cool, right? Wrong. Race over. And, frankly, rudely handled (in contrast to the folks at AS 1, 2, and 3 who were awesome).

I stomped off across the road, full of adrenaline from my sprint to the AS, into the woods, had a (hopefully private) personal tantrum, pitching my water bottles, cursing a string of unpleasantries under my breath, as Brigitte and Margie tried to say hi as they headed off from their break at this AS (they came in just before me). After cooling off, I waited for Phil to come in, who arrived maybe 5 minutes later. He was also pulled (as were maybe a half dozen or maybe 10 people after us?). So, what to do? Wait for a ride back after only 23 miles of running? Naw, screw it -- we decided to run back to the start. So, we had a very pleasant 17 mile jog (and hike) back to the start, chatting all the way, running along the mountaintop in the moonlight, watching the woods get brighter and brighter as we ran down the same 1700 ft we had come up. A nice cool morning greeted us as we ran by small farms with cows, barking dogs, crowing roosters, mist over their ponds. We rolled back into the 4-H camp at 7:20 am, getting in 40 miles in 10 hours and 20 minutes. I have to say, I can't think of a pleasant way to spend 10 hours running than to run with Phil -- finisher's shirt or no finisher's shirt, running with him is a heck of a good time.

Would I do this race again? Probably not. It is a really cool race concept, the 9 pm start in particular, with (I think) some really pretty parts. But I just think they were pretty because I couldn't really see much! As roadtrips go, however, it was a really great time with The Dawgs.