First off, it was COLD here on Saturday morning. So cold, in fact, that I had to run from my car to the check-in lodge to stay warm before the start...walking those couple-hundred feet was not an option. Sure, maybe I've grown soft since moving down to DC from Boston a few years back, but whatever the reason, I was not a happy camper out there before the start!
It looked like the cold convinced about 1/3 of the runners to stay home on this morning, but the rest of us were stupid enough to show up and pose for the group picture just before the 8am start. Here's the far right side of the group (with me in my holiday colors). More wore similarly festive garb, but at the start it was all buried under layers of coats and pants (Quatro Hubbard Photo):
The crazy SOB in shorts w/ his hands on his knees is RD Joe Clapper. I honestly have no clue how he (and a couple other guys) ran in shorts at the start. I think if I tried to do that my legs would shatter like glass on the first downhill.
Once we started, my plan to just hang back with the masses was quickly replaced by the need to run a little quicker to stay warm. Once I got up to the front group, I settled in w/ a nice comfortable pace and eventually started generating some body heat after 3 or 4 miles. The beauty of the MGM 50K is the course is not marked...so if you don't know the Bull Run Run 50 mile course (MGM is the southern 50K of that course), you need to stick with someone who does or risk ending up hopelessly lost in a maze of intersecting trails on the southern end. I personally have no clue how to follow the course on the infamous 3 mile "Do Loop" at the southern tip. Neither did the other 3 guys I was with at the front when we reached the start of the loop at about mile 13. Did that stop us from just heading into the labyrinth and hoping for the best? Of course not.
I should mention the Aid Station prior to the loop had all this lovely fuel, and an extra little treat from Gary K. hung from a tree next to it (Q. Hubbard and Doug Sullivan photos):
Please note the level of that tasty bourbon prior to our Do-Loop adventure.
Three of us were willing to hang back for a few minutes and wait for the group behind us (which we knew contained a certified Do-Loop Sherpa), but the other guy in our group decided to just head on out and take his chances w/ the loop. Not wanting to fall behind, the rest of us were convinced to be just as dumb and headed right behind our newly anointed Pseudo-Sherpa. The loop started off familiarly enough to me (I've run it once before when fully marked and recall a few sections)...we headed mostly downhill toward the water...then veered left-ish...and then, well, we had no clue where we were. Orange-Blazed trails intersected with Red and Blue and Yellow...our self-anointed Sherpa was completely lost, and when I ended up losing a shoe while trying to ford a muddy river, I couldn't help but yell "Hey Sherpa, you suck!". I sensed a mutiny coming very soon...
Once I dug my shoe out from the mud, dumped it out, and caught back up to the others, we noticed we lost one of our group. He must have turned around at the river and headed back to the Aid Station. He was a wise man. What followed for we 3 Stooges was a random bush-whack for about a 1/2 mile searching for...well, I'm not really sure. Our Sherpa seemed to just be walking aimlessly over the hills asking if we saw anything. I was about 30 seconds from turning around and heading back when we finally popped out on a marked trail. Sherpa seemed fairly confident that we should go right, so off we went. I was still pretty sure we were still lost, but a few minutes later we passed the happiest landmark ever: the old rusted-out Nash Rambler...I remembered that from Bull Run...we were miraculously back on course!
Shortly after that our Sherpa was released of his duties when we heard the chase pack just behind us and happily waited to join their group. Once we were guided safely back to the main drag leading back to the Aid Station, Will (who was part of the 3 Stooges w/ me and the Sherpa) and I took the lead again and made our way back to civilization. Will didn't bother stopping at the Aid Station when we got back there, but after that Do-Loop experience, I felt the need to take a little dose of the "medicine" to calm my nerves. You'll note the level of the bottle now...a lot of wise people took a shot even before heading into the Loop themselves:
With Will long gone at that point, I was happy to just cruise it on home. I always enjoy running the Bull Run trail quite a bit, so I took my time enjoying the bright sunny day (it was even in the high 30s at this point too!). A few miles down the trail a young guy caught up to me and we chatted for a bit. He was running with much more of a purpose than me, so I let him go and continued to enjoy my easy pace. With about 6 or 7 miles to go I ran into my friend Tammy heading down the trail toward me. She had gotten a late start on the race and was chasing down the rest of the group. She also just finished running a double marathon out in Vegas/Death Valley last weekend, but did that slow her down? Nah, she was happily jogging down the trail when I came upon her. She's one tough cookie!
After seeing Tammy I was pretty much on my own the rest of the way. I kept the pace easy aside for the rocky stretch along the river in the last 2 miles. I always love running this section as fast as possible to work on my "light feet" technique (it's really a jagged rock-strewn mess, so "fast" is a relative term here). I had a blast on this stretch, as always, and as I made my way up the final climb to the finish I caught up with the young guy who passed me 12 miles back. Just like my finish at Bull Run earlier this year, we brought it in together and crossed the line in a tie for 2nd at 5:02. Definitely the slowest 50K I've ever run, but with all the Do-Loop fun, I was more than happy to just be back at my car! Fellow Stooge Will ran a great second half and finished about 15 minutes ahead of us for the win. Big congrats go out to all the finishers who were brave enough to tough-out the weather at the start...and a big Thanks goes out to Joe Clapper and his gang of volunteers who helped make this race such a blast!
On a personal note: This race marked the official beginning of my training for 2010. The previous three weeks were just easy 50 mile maintenance weeks to give my legs a nice break, but now the regular long runs are coming back and the weekly mileage will double. I'm excited to put together a solid stretch of training this winter and emerge from the season ready to run with some real purpose in France!