They still are leaves
They are brown leaves
Still hanging from a tree

When they fall down
They still are leaves
Brown leaves on the ground

And when they’re gone
Lost to the wind
When they become
weightless and transparent…

They still are leaves
That once were all colors

– Sonya Florentino            

Rock Creek Park - Washington, DC 2012
Rock Creek Park - Washington, DC 2012
Rock Creek Park - Washington, DC 2012
Look Beat During Race 2 at Laurel Hill

I ended my 2011 race season with the 5 race, 10 mile trail Fall Back Yard Burn (BYB) Series.  The wonderful EX2 Adventures puts on this BYB Series every Spring and Fall, with 4 (spring) or 5 (fall) races over 8 weeks.  They offer up a 5 mile option or a 10 mile option for each race, which is held at different state and national parks throughout Northern Virginia.  This was my first time running any of the BYB races, so instead of writing 5 different race reports from similar trail races, I thought I would do an overview highlighting the highs and lows of each.  So instead of a ‘race report’, you can consider this more of a ‘series experience.’

After reading several horror reports all over the twiorld (Get it?  No? Ok.) about the Hot Chocolate 15k at the National Harbor last Saturday, I can’t stress enough how great of a race EX2 Adventures puts on.  I would recommend to anyone running any of their races.  They come across as very well organized and do a great job at making everyone feel welcomed.  All of these races had about 350 runners, and EX2 offers up prizes for the top five in each age group.  For anyone new to the trail racing world, they would be a great place to start.

Race 1:  Prince William Forest Park

This was one of my favorite races for a few reasons.  For starters, this is a beautiful park.  Being the largest in the DC Metro area, and so close to the District, I can’t believe I don’t come down here more often.  With so many great trails to explore, it offered up a nice mix between fast smooth fire road and more technical singletrack.  While it was one of my slowest races, this course didn’t have the God awful hills of some of the other locations.  Prince William was also the only course that didn’t loop back on any of the same trail.  10 miles of true trail running bliss.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this race, but after the pack thinned out a bit, I joined up with a few other runners and we ran almost the entire race together.  A few of those people I would end up pacing with on several of the other races.

Race 2:  Laurel Hill

Laurel Hill is new to the BYB series, and while I definitely enjoyed the race, I think I’m going to place it as my least favorite.  It is located on the grounds of the old Lorton Prison.  The start and finish were located right next to the prison walls, which made for an eerie pre-race brief on what turned out to be the chilliest of all the races.  I think what I disliked most about this course were all of the repeated loops.  Most of the trails wound through old farm lands instead of through wooded forest, and unfortunately we were limited to running several of the loops multiple times.  As you can see above, it looks like they were working hard to cram in 10 miles worth of running.  Laurel Hill also at times felt more like a cross-country race than a trail race.  Running through big fields isn’t really my cup of tea.

Race 3:  Wakefield Park

Thinking back on this race, it all seems like a blur.  I was hurting bad all 10 miles, with some major cramping, stomach issues, and leg fatigue.  While I really liked the course and the park, this was the only race I wasn’t happy to be running.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get out of my head.  I took two stumbles, fell way behind the group I was pacing with, and never got into a groove.  Out of all the races, this one somehow turned out to be my fastest, but it leaves me wondering how I could have done if I wasn’t feeling so bad.

We took two laps around another beautiful park on almost entirely smooth, flat trail.  Just look at the difference between the elevation charts from this race and what I think was the toughest race 5:

Race 3: Wakefield Park
Race 5: Hemlock Overlook

It was flat, fast, and would have been a great course for me to go all out.

 Race 4:  Fountainhead

I’m disappointed to report I didn’t run this race, giving me my first ever DNS.  The days after race 3, I was feeling an awful pain in the bottom of my foot.  The week in between races just wasn’t enough for me to fight that pain without fears of making it a lot worse.

It sounded like an awesome course though!  Here is what the EX2 Adventures Website had to say:

Fountainhead Regional Park is situated along the banks of the Occoquan Reservoir in Western Fairfax County. This race course is beautiful and consists mostly of hiking trails (including the Bull Run Occoquan Trail), horse trails, and old dirt roads. Competitors will run over rocks and roots, through several streams, and up some hills. This course was a new addition in 2006 and became an immediate hit.

Race 5:  Hemlock Overlook

I think I heard chatter about Hemlock at every race.  “Oh just wait until Hemlock” I’d hear one racer telling another after the first complained about a hill.  “We’re saving all the caution tape for Fountainhead and Hemlock” the race director would joke at ever race briefing.  And while I had to chuckle at the buildup, it lived up to the hype.  It was, without a doubt, my favorite course of the series, in that ‘this hurts so bad I want to drop at every corner, but my feet are having so much fun’ kind of way.  With the exception of race 4, this was by far the most technical, offering up several sections of super rocky rough singletrack.  Similar to a few of the other races, this course consisted of two 5 mile loops, each hosting two pretty brutal hills.  Along the Bull Run Occoquan Trail, runners spent a lot of slow time running along the very rocky creek bank.  The combo of the tough hills, rocky trails, and a few creek crossings caused me to run my slowest of the races, but probably what I would consider my best effort.  If it wasn’t so far outside the city, I would go back there and run this course any day.

What I learned:

This might sound a little odd, but I think for the first time I really learned how to race.  I’ve always set out to push myself, achieve new PRs, and see where my limit is, but let’s face it, I’m a mid-packer whether I like it or not.  But with the EX2 races, where they give the top 5 in each age group a pint glass after every race (sometimes it felt more like little league where everyone left with a trophy), I knew I could actually be a fighter.  After a 6th place age group finish the first race, I saw who my competition was, and I went after them.  And let me tell ya, as someone who has never really cared how the other racers around me were doing, it was a lot of fun trying to stick with other people or picking off other racers!  I ended up bringing home 4 pint glasses from the other races and the overall series.

This series was just how I wanted to end a great season.  The race director Jim seems like a great guy, and EX2 Adventures is a top notch company.  Well done guys, I’ll definitely be back.

Photo taken from a recent trip to Seattle, WA

I injured myself at some point during the 10 mile Back Yard Burn race #3.  The pain in my foot has been crippling.  It has been over a week now, and I’ve logged just one mile.

How do I pass the time?  I can’t keep watching the news.  How do I process the day?  Running was the cure.  I need the repetitive motion, the dirt beneath my feet, the audible breaths.  I’m now longing for the hills that just days ago brought so much dread.  I’m craving the pain from tripping on that root I’ve cursed so many times.  Trees, rocks, deer, once a part of my daily escape, have now transformed into concrete, trash, and buses.  All of this energy has built up with no escape.  I’m doing pushups.  I hate pushups.  I’m drinking beer.  Well, that’s always good.  Soon I’ll be with family.  I’ll need an outlet.  We all have our mental and physical escapes.  The park, the trail, the run.  I just hope this doesn’t last much longer.

View of the Potomac from the Potomac Heritage Trail

There is something weird about endurance running that defies logic.  In almost every other aspect of my life, when something hurts, causes discomfort, or makes me feel like laying down never to get up again, I usually avoid it.  Yet for some reason, as I write this post, I have the major urge to go back out and do this run right over again.

With the sold out EX2 Adventures Fall Back Yard Burn trail series, a 10 mile 5 race series, starting next weekend, I was feeling the urge to kick it up a notch.  I’ve been running very consistently, but my long runs were hoovering around the 10 mile mark.  The Parks Half Marathon provided my longest run in about 2 months.  All summer I had been meaning to check out the Potomac Heritage Trail, but with the busy schedule or crazy humidity, I never made it across the river.  So after seeing this weekend’s forecast of sunshine with temps in the low 60s, I knew this would be the perfect opportunity.

The Plan:

I decided I’d start at Roosevelt Island and run the ten mile stretch to the American Legion Bridge (495) and back.  Twenty miles, seemed like a lot, but with no expectations on speed, I knew I’d be able to get through it.  I filled two water bottles, grabbed a handful of gels and a Cliff Bar, and hit the road around 8:00am.

Trail Head

The Trail:

Surprisingly I couldn’t find too much info on this section of the Potomac Heritage Trail Network.  It is obviously a heavily used section of trail, but there isn’t much of a description or even a good map to go off of.  I knew where the trailhead was, had a good idea of where I would turn around, and assumed that on such a beautiful day, I’d see plenty of fellow runners/hikers.

As I look back on the day, I think the ten mile stretch from Roosevelt Island to the American Legion Bridge clearly splits itself into three sections of trail.  For the purposes of this post, I’ll do the same.

Section 1:  Roosevelt Island – Chain Bridge (Miles 1-4)

The 4 mile section from Roosevelt Island to the Chain Bridge was probably both the most heavily trafficked and the most difficult.  It was also probably the most fun.  The first mile or so doesn’t offer much in the way of excitement, but moves you away from the city, crossing under the Key Bridge and dropping down from George Washington Parkway.  By the time you drop down by the river, the trail rotates between dirt, rock, and sand.  The most technical sections of the 10 miles are housed in this first section, most of which is runnable, but some of which is not.

Some fun, but unrunnable section of the PHT

The best parts about this section are the little waterfalls.  Now don’t get me wrong, these were not Niagara, but they provided some nice views of the water feeding into the Potomac.  I guess I didn’t really realize how cool parts of this trail would be.

Steep Climb Away From the River

With about 1/2 mile left before the Chain Bridge, you make a sharp climb up and away from the river.  Even though the trail was very well marked, I actually missed this turn.  It happens right after a little stream crossing, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll do what I did and follow an unofficial trail to what I imagine are good fishing spots.  I took those for maybe 1/10 mile, before realizing I was no longer on the trail.  I looked around for a few minutes, convinced that the trail had to be there somewhere, before turning back.  Once I got back to the creek, it became clear that the trail makes the sharp turn.

After making the climb, you move away from the river for a few miles.  At first, this section of trail is a nice change, with it dumping you into the woods and offering a very smooth path with a few small hills.  But before long, I realized this wasn’t really what I was looking for.

Section 2:  Chain Bridge – Riverside (~2 miles)

Running Next to GW Parkway

This was by far my least favorite section of the day.  In fact, about a mile into this section, I almost turned around and gave up, fearing the rest of the 10 mile length would end up like this.  After popping up around the Chain Bridge and following a nice path along some creek, the trail spits you out next to the George Washington Parkway.  While this section is very runnable, allowing for some faster miles, it follows the road, switching back and forth from right next to the Parkway to about 10-20 feet into the woods.  It is loud, ugly, and not at all the peaceful trail I was looking for.  But because my legs were still feeling fresh, and quitting wouldn’t have made for a very good blog post, I kept going.

Section 3:  Riverside  – American Legion Bridge ( ~4 miles)

By the time the trail dropped back down along the Potomac, I was hitting a bit of a low.  Discouraged from the loud few miles, and beginning to feel a bit hungry, it took me a few minutes to wrap my head around this section.  I really came to when the trees opened up and I was right next to this massive body of water.  I’m not sure why, but the Potomac felt so much larger and so much more powerful on this section of trail (I think there is a dam somewhere around there, so it might actually be larger).  I was taken aback by the beauty, the quiet, and the power of my surroundings.  It was pretty cool.

View from the Trail, Right Next to the Potomac

With a renewed sense of energy (possibly from the two Gu’s I just squirted down my throat, possibly from my surroundings) my step found it’s pep, and I knocked out the last 4 miles with ease.  Passing a few hikers, several trail intersections, and some fun technical spots, this quickly became my favorite part of the day.  This section of trail allowed for some real running, but kept you interested, with enough variation in the footing.

The Return:

The ten miles back to the car were mostly uneventful.  I was feeling awesome for miles 10-14, churning out my fastest miles of the day.  As the day went on, more and more hikers came out to enjoy the weather.  By the time I made it back past the Chain Bridge (section 1 above), I was passing a group of hikers about every five minutes.  This also happened to be the time when I ran out of water, and began my terrible tumble into the runner’s black hole.

Without proper training, a proper night’s sleep, and possibly too many DC Brau’s the night before, this twenty mile, four hour run took a lot out of me.  I could see the Key Bridge for about the last 2 miles, and I knew my car was parked just beyond that.  It was a slow, long two miles, with what felt like way more rock scrambles than I passed on the way out. I went into this run hoping for something that would kick my ass.  When I plopped down in the grass next to my car with a bottle of water that had been boiling in the sun, I knew, my ass was kicked.

I would definitely run this route trail again, and I hope to return soon to hike parts of it with KFB.  If you want to get out of the city and onto some non-Rock Creek Park trail, this is a great option.  If you aren’t looking to do the whole twenty miles, I’d recommend running from Roosevelt to the Chain bridge and back.  It will give you a solid eight mile run with a good mix between highly runnable and some more interesting terrain.

The Details:

[nggallery id=10]

 

 

As I hurried from the port-o-potties to the starting coral, things felt a lot different at this year’s Park Half Marathon than they did the year before.  It all started December of last year, when I went down to Charlotte to run the Thunder Road Half with my good college buddies Jon and Chris.  We had a great weekend of drinking, running, eating, and drinking, and it wasn’t long after that Jon gave me a call asking if I wanted to do a repeat this year, only in the DC area.  I told him about how much fun I had at the 2010 Parks Half Marathon, and just like that, Jon and his girlfriend agreed to come up for a run.

Training for this year’s race was far from focused.  Until a few weeks ago, the mileage was certainly there, but with a very busy weekend schedule, long runs, speed workouts, and tempos turned to easy trail miles to calm the mind.  I honestly didn’t know what would happen on race day, as I hadn’t put more than 6 or so miles on road in several months.  But I decided it didn’t really matter.  I’d toe the line with Jon and Jen and just let things roll.  It was Jen’s first half, so with little expectations from anyone, we were bound to have a good time working our way along Rock Creek Trail.

The course itself was the exact same as last year.  You start in Rockville on about 3 miles of road before heading into the woods and onto Rock Creek Trail.  After another 8 miles on Rock Creek, runners turn off to the lite gravel Georgetown Trail as you make your way into Bethesda’s Town Center.  It really is a beautiful course.

I think that it is partially because of that beauty, and I’m sure partially because of the uniqueness of the race, that it has become very popular.  I’d venture to say TOO popular, in fact.  By having the nearly 3 miles on the road, they were hoping the field would naturally thin itself out before hitting the narrow trail.  Unfortunately that didn’t really happen.  It wasn’t until maybe mile 6 that the three of us could run full stride without having to worry about a wall of runners blocking the path.  I’m not going to lie, this was pretty frustrating.  Thankfully no PRs were being set that day, so I was able to just relax and enjoy the beautiful cool weather and nice atmosphere.

One of the best parts for me (and I think everyone running around me), was how great this course was for spectators willing to get on a bike.  At first glance, a point to point course isn’t ideal for the cheer teams, but KFB (and her friend Katie), were not intimidated in the least.  The two of them jumped on bikes, and were pretty much able to follow the entire course along Beach Drive.  They must have have been waiting for Jon, Jen and I to pass by 5 or 6 different places, which is incredible for a 13 mile course.

To be honest, there isn’t much to report on when it comes to the running itself.  I felt pretty good, which allowed for a solid run with near perfect splits.  The three of us all beat our goal time for Jen’s first race, running all but the last mile stride for stride.

I think we all had a great time on a beautiful course running a well run race.  The days leading up to the race brought a ton of rain, so mad props to the race staff and the NPS staff for cleaning up the course.  I only saw a few people take dives into the swelling puddles.  Aside from a few issues with overcrowding, I really enjoyed myself, and was happy to be back.

A few other notes to the race director:

  1. More port-o-potties at the start!  Probably 100 or so runners were still waiting in line when the first gun went off.  I know we had been waiting for 20 or more minutes.
  2. The packet pickup location is FAR to small for this large of a race.  I love the idea of having it at a running store, but a larger one would be much for comfortable.  From just looking at the sponsors, maybe REI?

In preparation for an upcoming guide to running in Rock Creek Park (more on that to come soon!) I have been trying to visit some trails I don’t hit up very often.  A few weeks ago I ran along a horse trail not far from the Rock Creek Park Horse Center.  I had run this section of trail maybe 5 or 6 times before, and noticed a wall of large stones along one small part, but never thought much about it.  Then the other day something caught my eye.  I noticed that on top of one of the stones sat a small decorative piece.  Immediately I stopped and went over to check it out.  What I discovered was way more interesting than I could have imagined.

Once I walked past the initial wall you can see from the trail, the area opened up to hundreds of moss covered stones of all sizes and shapes.  Most were plain and simple large stones, but others much more intricate.

They Just keep going!

Some of my favorites were clearly meant for decorative building corners like these:

The mostly sandstone chunks sit about 10 or 15 yards off the main trail, and sit rather unorganized throughout the woods.  Not too far away you can see the maintenance building behind one of the makeshift walls.  It was clear to me that whatever these stones were, they have been sitting in the same spot for decades.

Out of the half dozen times I’ve run that loop of horse trail, I’ve never actually seen anyone on it.  At one point you pass by the horse center, where people clearly ride all the time, but I’ve never seen anyone on the trail.  From the first time running that section, I’ve always been a bit spooked by that section, which is odd considering the rest of the park feels like a playground.  But when I discovered this, masked behind the excitement of the discovery, the spooked became more of a frighten.  I walked around for about 10 minutes, half expecting a ghost of haunted Rock Creek’s past to start knocking over the rocks, and half expecting some crazy man to jump out holding the bones of the last person who came back there and bothered him.  Thankfully, the only thing to attack were a few mosquitoes, so I continued to take some pictures, and left on my merry way.

After about 3 fast few miles back down the trail home, I jumped on to the trusted Google to try and figure out what they were!  A few minutes of clicking later, I found this article from City Paper.  Turns out the stones were pieces of the US Capitol that have been aging there in the park since 1959.  The City Paper writes:

According to Eva Malecki, spokesperson for the Architect of the Capitol, they were part of what was torn down during a renovation that started in 1958 and ended in 1962. The pieces, mostly sandstone and some marble from the east front façade, likely originate from the rebuilding that occurred after the Capitol was nearly burned down in the War of 1812. Instead of reusing the pieces, they were placed in this part of Rock Creek Park per an agreement with then-Architect of the Capitol J. George Stewart and the National Park Service (NPS), Malecki says.

Needless to say, this is a really cool find.  It blows my mind that pieces of the US Capitol are just laying around, unprotected, in the woods.  They don’t seem to be in any order, aren’t stacked all that well, and are just left, weathering away for the world to view.  Awesome.

Things NOT to do there:

One thing that struck me almost as much as the stones themselves, was how little they seemed to have been bothered.  Small stones which could have easily been taken, were left sitting seemingly untouched.  Not only that, but the lack of graffiti was shocking!  Nothing was marked.  In a city where little can be left outside unlocked, and walls are tagged quicker than they can be repainted, it was so nice to see that such a neat find seems to have been left for everyone to enjoy.  So, I’m about to post a map of where the hidden capitol is located, but please don’t ruin the experience for the rest of us!

US Capitol stones are located at the red star (NPS map: http://tiny.cc/rockcreekmap)

You can get to the stones a few ways.  The easiest would simply be to park at the Horse Center and walk the horse path down.  You can also park near Pierce Barn along Beach Drive and walk the horse trail that follows the creek.  This is a great smooth trail with nice views along the water.

Rock Creek Park proves time and time again to be full of hidden gems.  A find li this is just another reason why I love running here.  Have you ever run into these stones before?  If not, I’d encourage you to go check them out.  The slightly eerie, totally unique experience is well worth the time.

As much as I might dread going out for a run during DC’s hot and humid summers, the views are certainly a nice change of pace.  You can’t help but feel more alive, because well, everything around you IS more alive!

Then:

Taken January, 2011 in Rock Creek Park

Now:

Taken July, 2011 in Rock Creek Park

Ed Note:  Looking for information on running in DC?  Sign up for the free eGuide for info on road routes, trail running, races, and so much more!

Recently I’ve received a lot of Google traffic from searches similar to this, “How to find access to <insert Rock Creek Trail name here> from <insert DC neighborhood here>.”  If you are one of those people, I know your pain.  When an old roommate of mine, the WisconsinBeerRunner, talked about running trails in the park, I had some trouble figuring out where to find them!  I knew where some of the trailheads were located, but didn’t have a good way to get there.  I would end up running 3 miles each way to the trail, which usually left me with just a few miles off the pavement.  So after exploring any and every little path I could find, causing me to get lost or find myself in a place I probably shouldn’t be alone, I’ve found what I believe to be the best access points for dirt hiking and running trails in Rock Creek Park from the NW neighborhoods.  With so many people hitting the trails this summer, I thought I’d lay out my access points, hoping that you don’t have as much trouble as I did.

Now to be clear, these are not the most direct ways to Rock Creek Park.  There are often closer access points to Beach Drive/Rock Creek Trail, but this will put you directly onto the dirt, giving you access to all the great dirt hiking/running trails that Rock Creek has to offer.

14th and U – Valley Trail Trailhead

From 14th and U it is about two miles before you hit the dirt.  The map shows you running up 16th and through Mt. Pleasant to Park Rd.  Follow Park Rd. until you hit the bridge over Piney Branch.

Columbia Heights – Valley Trail Trailhead

From the Columbia Heights Metro area, things are pretty quick and easy.  Just head up to Park Rd. and continue on down the hill.  Cross over the bridge and hit up the trail on the right.

Unofficial Trailhead Access

Photo from Google Maps

Once you head down Park Rd., cross over the bridge, keeping to the right.

Photo from Google Maps

Immediatelly following the fence, hang a right, follow the trail up the hill, then just keep hanging lefts until you hit the Vally Trail trailhead.

This short section after the bridge is unofficial trail, but is very well used and easy to follow.  If you took a right at the top of that hill, it would lead you to a neighborhood behind 16th Street.

Hopefully that will help!  Do you have another way to enter into the park?

Enjoy the trail!

Related Topics

The Bib - Photo by KFB

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k was awesome on so many levels.  When I first decided to run this race, it was an out there idea to encourage me to embrace this long trail direction my running was taking.  I didn’t know if I’d really be able to do it, or even if it was a good idea, but I registered early and added it to the race calendar.  Then I started to train and things started to feel natural, but before I knew it, I was injured and back to questioning my registration.  Now I can’t say it enough, how happy I am that I stuck with it and kept running.

Toeing the Line - by KFB

When we arrived to Algonkian Park in VA around 6:15 Saturday morning, nerves were a little high, but the vibe felt right.  With some music playing, runners stretching, and KFB + both our moms by my side, my head was in the right place and I was ready to go.  As we lined up at the start, I was surprisingly calm.  Dean Karnazes took the mic, syced us up a bit, and before we knew it, we were off.

Miles 0-6: The start was slow.  Somewhere around 350 runners took off, and almost immediately funneled into a path the size of a car, weaving through a field. The first mile was my slowest of the first 10, which isn’t surprising considering I was forced to walk as runners lined up to jump over a log or carefully tiptoe through a ditch.  But after the first mile or two things started falling into a rhythm and the jerky running started to fade.  After the first few miles of light gravel road, we single filed through the next several miles of singletrack along to the Potomac Heritage Trail.  I was overwhelmed with excitement throughout this first section, to the point where the only way I can describe it is that it just felt right.  Miles were ticking by, my legs felt strong, and I just loved being on the trail.  We hit the first aid station, where I quickly refilled my bottle, downed my first Gu, and tried to skip by a few dozen people who were filling up on the other goodies.

Potomac on a Beautiful Saturday Morning - by KFB

Miles 6-12: Things really started to get interesting in this section when the elevation changes became more drastic, and the trail became increasingly rugged.  This was a great place to pass a few people who were walking the hills, and a great place to establish your own race.  My head refocused into race mode, but I continued to enjoy the beautiful views from the trail.  One of the things that I loved most about this race was the vibe from the other runners.  When a runner went down after tripping on a rock, everyone around them stopped to help them up.  And when I missed a turn, potentially going WAY out of the way, it was a group of runners yelling at me to come back that forced me to come to and turn around (I think it ended up being about .4 miles out of my way total).

Miles 12-20: As we came out of the woods and hit the smooth main trail in Great Falls, the first group of spectators began to emerge.  Coming into the second aid station, I was feeling great.  I was greeted by my team, with whom I took a minute to check in and say hi, but quickly topped off the bottle and kept going.  After pushing through the main part of the park, we (thankfully) jumped onto the most technical trails of the day on the Ridge Trail and Difficult Run.  Other than dodging a few unsuspecting hikers, this section was a lot of fun.  With the raging falls on your right, the technical rock hopping offered an exciting changing up from what we had been on most of the day.  This was a slow section, but I kept to my Gu every 5 mile routine, and stayed on track.  We rounded back through the same aid station from mile 12 (now mile 19) to head back home.  It was at this point that I began to feel nervous about what was to come.  I knew my typical ‘wall’ comes around mile 21, and even though I was feeling great at 19, I had a lot of running left to go.

Miles 20-26: Right before leaving Great Falls and climbing back up the Potomac Heritage Trail, the cheer team was there with some encouragement and smiles.  I took a minute to chat with them, threw back 2 Advil, and calmed the nerves a bit.  I can honestly say that I left them feeling the best I have ever felt after running 20 miles.  After leaving them I slowly climbed the uphill and picked back up the pace downhill, walking some, but mostly jogging my way through the next several miles.  This stretch felt the longest.  By this time the field was thin, the temperature was on the rise, and for the first time I was worried about running out of water.  Gus 4 and 5 were much tougher going down, especially while rationing the water, and I was starting to get hungry.  When I hit the major creek (about knee deep with nothing to offer a way around), I passed a guy who was just standing in the water, enjoying the fresh cool flow.  I can’t blame him, it felt great.  When I finally reached the second to last aid station at mile 26, I was at the beginning of my lowest point.  I decided to eat half a Clif Bar, 3 orange slices, and a few potato chips before going back out.  I don’t know if it was from eating too much, drinking too much, or the fact that I had just run a marathon, but I almost immediately began to feel nauseous.

26-Finish: Honestly the end is kind of a blur.  When I hit my lowest point, feeling like I might get sick, I walked for about a minute.  After just that short break, I fell back into a slow but consistent pace and kept moving.  Other runners were few and far between, so it was really just me and my head that kept me going.  I took another breather at the final aid station around mile 29, then powered through to the end.  As I rounded the corner to the final field, saw KFB, my mom, and KFB’s mom ringing their cowbells and yelling my name, a huge smile and a few tears covered my tired sunkissed face.

Looking back I’m still amazed at how well I felt through most of the race.  I never crashed to the point of wanting to quit (which I have during a marathon), and I wasn’t totally shot after crossing the line.  I crossed the line at 5:44:25, good enough for 77th of 325 finishers (might be my first top 25% finish).  The race was really well organized, well marked, and well manned.  The North Face knows how to organize a race, and I was really happy to be a part of it.  I certainly made some mistakes, but I learned a lot over the course of those several hours.  This is definitely just the beginning of my ultra running future.

Some Tired Shoes - Photo by KFB

 

Highlights and lowlights:

Fastest Mile – Mile 13 at 8:43 pace

Slowest Mile – Mile 29 at 14:24 pace, included my slowest aid station

Mile of Note – Mile 30 at 9:21 pace, I was excited to stop running

food and gear

Food: 6 Gus, 1/2 Cliff Bar, 3 Orange Slices, 1 Handful of Chips, and lots of Water

Gear: New Balance MT101 Shoe and Nathan Quickdraw Handheld